6 Things You Won't Believe Were Built by a Single Person
As we've mentioned once before, humanity has been blessed with a staggering capacity for creativity matched only by our collective dislike of doin' stuff on a weeknight. But sometimes that unlimited imagination is paired with both inspiration and obsession, and this sexy three-way of abstract concepts gives us some truly awesome feats -- monumental actions that would impress us if they came from the collective efforts of entire towns, but that we actually owe to one single overachiever who's out there making the rest of us look bad.
An Entire Mountain Highway
Dashrath Manhji led a quiet life in the Gehlour hills of India, tending to his goats and looking after his wife, until one day she fell down a slope and injured herself. Since the nearest hospital was 45 miles away and Manhji didn't own a vehicle, we'll skip the sad details and just say that 14 puppies are born every second.
Not wanting anyone else to experience his loss, Manhji sold his goats, bought a hammer and chisel, and got to work ... single-handedly carving a freaking road into the mountain.
"I mean, not all once. I took breaks for sex."
For the next 22 years, Manjhi hammered away at the rock and dirt that would eventually come to be known as Dashrath Manjhi Road, a 30-foot-high, 25-foot-wide, and 360-foot-long passage that connected his mountain village to the nearby town of Wazirganj, reducing the previous distance of 45 miles to a mere 4.
What did you make today that can be seen from space?
That's right: One man punched right through that immense rock formation, and he did it all with hand tools and gumption. We gave up on washing the car one time because our rag fell all the way into the bucket. Some people just operate on a different plane.
Although Manjhi would go on to achieve minor stardom among his fellow citizens of India, his dream of paving the road would go tragically unfulfilled in his lifetime -- the government initially refused to assist him in this noble task because they're an uncaring bureaucracy enslaved by budget constraints, or maybe they just assumed he'd get the project done faster by himself.
A Robot Army
Wu Yulu is a Chinese man who lives in a small farming village on the outskirts of Beijing. His daily routine is not unlike what you would expect in this bucolic settlement, with the minor exception that he sometimes rides a giant robot rickshaw to work.
Getting human-robot relations off to a great start by relegating them to demeaning jobs.
Wu first tried his hand at robotics when he was only 11 years old, but after dropping out of primary school because his parents were unable to pay his tuition, Wu's passion for creepy mannequin heads on crude metal frames holding worrying looking bundles was put on hold. But you can't keep a dream down forever.
But sometimes, kids, you should. You really should.
Years later, Wu got his first job at a real factory, and once he laid eyes on all that beautiful machinery, he knew his life's mission was to give all of that equipment googly eyes and sex doll mouths.
If you name it, it will be that much harder to crush it in a hydraulic press when the uprising begins.
Over the next 26 years, Wu would forge 25 different automatons (although he rather unsettlingly calls his robots his "sons") that possess a variety of skills, like lighting cigarettes and serving tea.
"Here we have a robot sketching out military strategy."
Aw, it's like one big disconcerting biomechanical family! But much like everybody who visited Disneyland's Country Bear Jamboree, Wu was very nearly butchered by heartless automatons. One of his robots caught fire, burning down his home and everything in it. Another had a rechargeable battery explode, engulfing Wu's hands and arms in flames. But severe burns across much of your body is no reason not to embrace ... your dreams.
It's just going to hurt a lot when you do it.
Having every single one of his possessions burned to a crisp turned out to be exactly what the murderous robot doctor ordered, however: Wu was forced to sell one of his creations to fund a new home, and word of his inventions spread. After selling just one of his robots to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, he was offered a job as a prop maker for China Central Television's science department, and was even invited to show off his inventions at the Shanghai 2010 Expo.
"No, I wouldn't call it an army. This is a platoon, at best."
There were no survivors.
Oh, sorry: injuries. There were no injuries.
A Miniature World
Joseph Zoettl immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 19th century. He settled in Alabama. He spent the rest of his days trying to forget it.
Zoettl spent his free time gathering discarded materials like toilet bowl floats and plastic animals, which he mixed with nearby stones and turned said disgusting garbage into wondrous recreations of international monuments. While some were fictional locales, most of Zoettl's sculptures were of real places he would one day like to visit, like St. Peter's Square and Jerusalem and seriously anywhere that wasn't Alabama.
He could just use a literal shit hole for that.
Because Zoettl had only old photographs and his imagination to work from, some of the buildings look nothing like the real thing (also not helping his accuracy were the toilet and garbage building materials). But still, he did some amazing stuff with what he had: Zoettl turned 4 acres of land into a sprawling little world, encompassing 125 astoundingly ornate sculptures.
Some people get really into model railroads.
Squint your eyes a little, and that's an actual town. Pretty crazy, right? And he finished it using only discarded materials and whatever rocks he found nearby. Oh, and did we mention he did all of this with a hunchback?
(Not, like, a captive one or anything -- his own back was painfully hunched.)
A Forest Shaped Like a Guitar
Argentine Pedro Martin Ureta was a "bohemian revolutionary," which apparently used to mean something back in the day, but now is just a polite way to refer to shiftless teenagers wearing Che Guevara shirts that they bought from Hot Topic. Eventually, Ureta met a lovely young woman named Graciela Yraizoz, and she tamed his wild heart -- although no woman could tame his wild pants.
What else can you do with a man who rides dogs to herd horses?
The pair were soon married and settled on a farm in the pampas. One day Yraizoz was flying over her property when she got the mad idea of crafting the whole thing into the shape of a guitar -- her favorite instrument. Although her husband liked the idea, he reasonably assumed she was operating on Manic Pixie Dream Girl logic and would soon forget the ambitious project to teach butterflies how to wear tiny hats or something.
But then his beloved Graciela suffered a brain aneurysm, and, well ... did you know sea otters hold hands so they don't drift apart?
Filled with regret from dismissing the (arguably ridiculous sounding) whims of his late wife, Ureta set about making amends by planting over 7,000 trees in the shape of a musical instrument.
You can bet it's a bitch to tune, though.
He didn't accomplish this with anything as utilitarian and cold-hearted as drafting instruments and farm equipment, though -- what kind of story would that be? No, Ureta enlisted the help of the four children he and Graciela had together. They all lined up about 3 meters apart, planted a tree wherever they stood, and repeated the process nearly 2,000 times. Ureta used cypress trees to form the hole and body of the guitar, eucalyptus to create its strings, and heartwarming devotion to make us look like a bunch of pansies for crying in the office right now.
A Motorcycle from Scrap (While Dying in the Middle of the Desert)
The most unrealistic scene in the Iron Man movies -- besides the force blasts, flying humanoid robots, and women turning down Robert Downey Jr. -- is the fact that Tony Stark manages to build a fully functional piece of advanced technology with a bunch of random parts while trapped in a cave in the middle of the desert.
We think that's totally unrealistic crap.
But Emile Leray politely disagrees with that sentiment.
When Leray's car broke down in the Sahara Desert, he had two choices: die from heat exhaustion, or die from heat exhaustion without any pants on (when bereft of any other options, we always have the choice of doing it sans pants. Remember that, if nothing else).
"But keep the banana hammock. A true survivor keeps their sense of propriety, even at the edge of death." -Bear Grylls
Leray chose option C: disassemble the car with his bare hands and some jury-rigged tools, then use the parts to construct a functioning motorcycle that he would ride out of the desert. Kind of sounds like he was already succumbing to that heat exhaustion, doesn't it? That's like being stranded on a sinking life raft in the middle of the ocean, then turning to your fellow survivors and proposing to build an outboard motor out of kelp and passing seabirds.
The only difference being that Leray actually pulled off his fever dream:
Inexplicably, he still had panties thrown at him.
Because he had no tools, Leray had to use scrap metal from his busted car to drill any holes and secure the parts together. Eventually he managed to fit the wheel arm on a chassis, mount the gearbox and engine at the center, and strap the battery and gas tank down wherever he could find a place, and off he went.
The motorcycle, which could even drive in reverse (so that's one up on normal motorcycles) wouldn't win any beauty contests outside of a steampunk convention, but it drove reliably enough to get Leray out of the desert and save his life. If you want your very own replica of Leray's motorcycle, you can totally have one: just break down in a lifeless wasteland and escape using only old MacGyver episodes and your formidable engineering prowess. If you can't find one or both of those things, you could always take off your pants and die of exposure!
An Entire Freakin' Jungle
When Jadav "Molai" Payeng was 16 years old, he came across a swarm of dead snakes (flock? Bundle? We're not sure what you call a lot of dead snakes, aside from "a relief") on an abandoned sandbar. They had died from the lack of cover and exposure to the sun. Payeng asked the Indian forest department to plant trees on the sandbar, but as you may remember from the mountain pass entry, the Indian government ain't much for that whole "doin' stuff about things" business. If Payeng wanted results, he would have to provide them. And so he did. But rather than throw charity events or try to raise awareness with a clever PR campaign, Payeng did things the old-school way: He moved onto the sandbar, where he planted a variety of tree life by hand.
FernGully really hit home with him.
Thirty years later, Molai Woods (named for Payeng, who literally created them) is likely the biggest river forest in the world, and home to not only thousands upon thousands of sheltering trees and other plant life, but animals, too -- apes, elephants, deer, even endangered species like tigers and rhinoceroses make their homes in Molai Woods.
Not to mention the endangered Hare Krishna.
In roughly three decades, Payeng created an entire ecosystem from scratch. In three decades, all we've managed to create is a butt-shaped dent in the couch. Way to ruin the curve for the rest of us, buddy.
Related Reading: Lone heroes have accomplished other acts of greatness: like this glorious soul who tricked China into building a giant penis. Follow up with the greatest one man armies and one man rampages in the history of war. If you're still hungry for inspiration, look at the most impressive things accomplished by one person and marvel at the lone man who built a real castle.