A California-bound airline in 1849!? Don't laugh; it almost happened. Rufus Porter, founder of Scientific American, planned to fly 49ers west on propeller-driven balloons powered by steam engines. He went to far as to advertise the expedition, and 200 brave souls signed up for the trip. But the "airline" never got off the ground.
Then there was the "wind wagon," sort of a cross between a sailboat and a wagon. It seemed like a good idea on paper; after all, it can be very windy in the West. A prototype was built and for a brief moment it barreled across the plains at the advertised 15 miles-per-hour. Then it went out of control and crashed. The inventor -- Wind-wagon Thomas -- kept trying for years, but never succeeded.
Others took a more low-tech approach, making the trip with only a simple wheelbarrow. It's hard to imagine pushing a fully-loaded wheelbarrow for 2,000 miles, but several dozen attempted the trip.
For a time, they could outpace everything on the Trail, but human endurance has its limits. No one is quite sure if any of them made it all the way with their wheelbarrows.
Why all the weird contraptions? Everyone was in a big hurry to get west -- to strike it rich.