Saturday, January 27, 2007

An Unfair Result
During the summer of my last year on the farm, I had much less to do as far as actual farm work, other than the indispensable daily rounds of chores that had to be done no matter what. The main reason for this turn of events was that I'd already submitted paperwork to the district court notifying the court and all concerned parties that I fully intended to become an emancipated teenage adult upon my sixteenth birthday the following April. I think that R was hoping that if he lightened my load and allowed me more time to pursue other part-time jobs and have a bit more free time, I would change my mind about leaving abruptly on my birthday. What he couldn't understand, and I was unable to explain, was my insatiable desire for adventure, travel, and new situations to overcome. This need still follows me to an extent, although I'm much more easily placated in view of the wisdom and pains that accompany most people of advancing years who've live a life on the edge & have the scars to show for it.
However, that merely explains my change in status that summer from total farm kid to wage earner, car owner, and man of relative leisure in the evenings. During this time, my pal J, who lived on another farm a bit up the road, and I became fast friends and remained so until his tragic death in a car accident while serving with the Army in Germany. He at least died doing what he loved most, going fast and tempting fate on the Autobahn. He was estimated to have been travelling at over 150mph when he hit a sudden downpour and lost control of the Porsche he was driving. Apparently the accident happened so quickly that from start to finish was a matter of less than 5 seconds according to his dad who'd talked to German Police.
His passion for speed, along with my own, was firmly implanted that summer after we found ourselves at a gasoline station in the small nearby city when a kid on a go-cart pulled in from the sidewalk he'd been driving on. We questioned him as to whether that was legal or not and he informed us that the police didn't bother them as long as they were going to or from the supermarket parking lot, as that's where they had created a small race course for their carts. Since we were bored & this sounded interesting, we headed down to see what the deal was all about. Well, one thing led to another, and before we knew it we were both on borrowed go-carts trying our hands at the little egg-shaped course laid out with hay bales. In short, we were instantly hooked!
The following day, we found ourselves at the sole dealer of those little mechanical wonders to see what it would take to afford one. We'd figured if we pooled our money we could swing it easily. We were floored to discover that the cheapest cart was a puny thing with two seats, a toy motor, and a price tag of nearly $175!! Hell, I'd only paid $25 for my car, which was the spitting image of the blue Chevrolet in a previous post's photos. Anyway, this was clearly way beyond what we'd expected or would be able to invest. But, being typical teens and confident we knew a cheaper way to gain ownership of a better cart, we hit upon a grand idea. We'd build one of our own design. Build it cheaper, better, faster, etc. Typical youthful grand plans and schemes.
We immediately went to the town library to look through all their vast stock of mechanical know-how magazines hoping to find the ever elusive "easy to follow plans". We finally found a plan of sorts, similar to the one shown above. As it was an older volume, the lady let us take it for the customary two week loan period, which we were confident far exceeded the time required by two such skilled fabricators as ourselves. We then went back to the shop that sold the carts and, under pretense of intent to purchase one, went over a one-seat speedster and gleaning all the knowledge about the construction that we could remember.
Next stop was J's uncle's shop at the local paper mill. In those days, when everyone knew everyone, a simple wave to old K at the gate was all the pass required for immediate access. His uncle listened keenly, and then allowed as he might have some sheet steel and lengths of pipe he could donate to such a worthy cause as ours. Next, to Dad's house where we got some plywood, foam rubber, bicycle brake cables from an "English" bicycle, and a few other odds and ends we thought we might be able to use. Then to J's barn where he knew there were several unused pneumatic wheels & tires which would make great front wheel assemblies. We then went to the farm and out to the machine shop where we took stock of our bounty to see what else we needed. We soon saw we'd have to purchase regular cart wheels, tires, chains, and sprockets.
With this information at hand, J took my car and headed to buy the needed items from the go-cart dealer while I took the farm truck and went to his uncle's house to gather the sheet metal and pipe to which he'd said we were free to help ourselves. Soon we were back at the machine shop and, having okayed our project with uncle R, we spent that entire evening designing, cutting, and laying out our soon to be "super-cart". The following afternoon we managed to assemble an actual cart with seat, steering mechanism, front wheels, frame, and everything we required except one big item, the engine. By about eight o'clock, R and F, being curious, wandered out to see if we had built anything yet. When they arrived, they seemed truly amazed at what we'd done so far and asked us why we'd stopped. We explained there was a two-fold problem, how to mount an engine and trying to find a way to power both back tires. It was F who gave us the solution, why not place a solid one-inch diameter rod through a set of frame-mounted bearings the width of the cart as a "live axle". What a great idea.
Of course, as with all great ideas, this soon gave birth to another, to which R and F weren't privy. Instead of one engine, use two for the fastest cart around. Now all we needed was the required engines. For this we made a trip to my biological uncle's chain saw sales and repair shop. In the shop we found a treasure trove of possible go-cart power plants. My uncle said to help ourselves to any of the saws he'd taken in trade on newer ones and hadn't yet refurbished. These he said, were in the small area to the left rear of the shop. As we went in, we immediately spotted the perfect items, in the doorway between the areas sat two Mc-18 saws, neither really in or out of either room. We interpreted this to place them in the small room where we were allowed to help ourselves. As a sign we weren't completely secure in our reasoning, we waited until uncle P went off on an errand before removing the saws to the truck. A fact which he, at age 93 today, reminds me of still whenever I talk to him.
Things progressed rapidly from there, and soon we found ourselves back at the cart shop purchasing centrifugal clutches to allow us to sit at idle awaiting the start of the anticipated races the coming weekend. We spent the next couple of days rebuilding the saw engines, again courtesy of uncle P who unknowingly allowed us to "take what stuff we needed" for the task. When we were done we had the sweetest sounding, not bad looking, and about to be proven fastest go-cart around. The day came and we loaded the machine onto the bed of the truck to take it for its inaugural run. We were the envy of everyone there as our little wonder zipped around the parking lot. Until, that is, both clutches self destructed simultaneously. Our day was done. The next week we spent all our free time revising our unit. We finally decided on a direct drive approach, whereby there is no way to idle the cart with the wheels on the ground. We figured we'd overcome this minor problem by use of a lever bar that held the rear wheels clear of the pavement until the flag was dropped.
Well, Friday night came and found us again at the parking lot with our revised racer. All looked good as J sat in the seat revving the twin howling, muffler-less engines in unison via our also revised gas pedal cable that synchronized the beasts somewhat. Then J took it for a spin solo around the track. Other than a tendency to slide the rear wheels in the turns, all looked good. Then the race and disaster! As soon as I dropped the rear of the cart, J mashed the gas and set the rear wheels on a horrific spasm of hops and jumps, culminating in the whole rear of the cart breaking away next to the welds. Back to the shop with it and two dejected racers.
With the help of R and F, we repaired the racer and came up with a new starting method. We constructed a small rolling platform just tall enough to hold the wheels off the ground using an old pair of the Princess' roller skates. This had affixed to the back, a small leather strap about a foot long. Excitedly, we went to a local twisting back-road to test our creation prior to any more race night failures. Everything worked as planned. Once I got the thing rolling I stepped on the strap, pulling the platform from under the cart, which then fired up as soon as the wheels started turning on the pavement. Problem solved. Then J decided that he wanted to know how fast it would go. This ended up with a borrowed BSA motorcycle that clocked J at roughly 75mph down the twisty paved road. Well satisfied, we decided to head for the races the next night.
Go we did, and things were terrific until the other cart owners stated we had too much speed to safely circumnavigate the little track. In all fairness, this was pretty accurate, as both J and myself spent more time sideways trying to regain control than watching the other carts. This resulted in several near misses, the complaints, and our banishment from the track. But, the owner of a faster cart said, the county seat also had races for carts, but there they raced on paved streets in a new industrial park. Aha, just the ticket we think, we'll go there the next day and enter races with more room.
Well, the upshot of this all was that we went, entered, and promptly smoked the competition. When at first they claimed we had an unfair advantage we pointed out that they all had four-cycle engines and clutches allowing them to start immediately upon the dropping of the green flag, where we had to run behind and start our cart. This ended the discussion for the night, even though the others pointed out that, at the end of the first lap, we were always ahead by almost half a lap. We countered that the group we raced in was called "unlimited". End of that problem we thought. The next week was a repeat of the first, with us winning every race we entered. We were having the time of our lives and looking forward to a repeat the next day.
Then, at the end of the evening, the head official informed us that, as of the next day, the groups were to be different and we would now be listed in the "extreme" group. Okay we thought, fair enough. Then the other shoe dropped, since we were the only ones in the group, and the rules called for a minimum of two racers per group, we needed another racer to compete with. Bummer!! We dragged our heels back home and the little racer was relegated to living under a canvas covering in the back of F's barn. There it stayed, until some years later when a new farm worker lad discovered it and F gave it to him. Seems the rules had changed with the construction of a new track nearby and the little powerhouse was once again legal. And, if F and R are to be believed, still the meanest sounding, fastest racer out there every weekend.
The young fellow that resurrected the cart later went on to race semi-pro in the New England racing series with considerable success. Until next time, take care.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Beedub and His Self-named "Horse Mobile"
I saw something the other day that brought up this old memory. I was driving down a back-road near a farm, and happened upon a pair of men and a draft horse moving an old truck out into a field. I presume the farmer had his own little junkyard way back in the trees somewhere. Farmers tend to be hoarders as you "never know when some old thing will become useful". I suppose this mentality is common to most small farmers as you seldom see a long established small farm without old equipment, vehicles, wood, etc lying about nearby. I know we certainly had our share when I lived on the farm. We had an entire small field way out in the woods behind F's barn that all old, but possibly useful stuff, was relegated to until a need for it might arise.
Just outside the town on the other side from us lived an old retired mill-worker who had a small one bedroom house, a small barn, and even smaller garage. As best I can recall, he never did hook up to the electric power lines even after they were extended several miles beyond his place. He had an indoor and an outdoor hand pump for his well and an outhouse well removed down a heavily trod path. The old guy, by old, I know for sure he was at least ninety-one, as he'd tell everyone who stopped to chat with him how upset he was that the State had refused him a renewal of his driving license on his ninetieth birthday. But, he always added, he had a plan to "screw those damned pencil-pushing bums at the licensing office". He'd never get specific about his plans, just snicker to himself as he'd pedal off on his old three-wheel bicycle, or I should say tricycle I guess. The old bike was darn near ready for retirement as well, being rather worn out.
My curiosity about him was aroused when I noticed that he'd started rushing, as fast as a ninety-some man can rush, to close the doors to his barn when my aunt would stop with his milk delivery and to drop off his mail. Our town didn't have rural free delivery in those days, you either had a box at the town post office or your mail simply went to "general delivery" for pick-up. Being a rather frugal man by reputation, old Beedub always had his mail go to general delivery and would call in to pick it up. As he was getting up in years, at least in our eyes, my aunt would pick up his mail along with that of several others who lived a good distance from town and had no, or poor, transportation available. Every morning, as we pulled into his driveway, we'd see him hurriedly exit his barn and close and bar the doors. I also noticed that his draft horse, which looked as old as Beedub, was now housed in his small garage whenever he wasn't in the pasture in back of the house.
Now, I'd not really known Beedub until I started going with my aunt on the milk route as I was rather young and didn't really notice the doings of old folks. After I first talked to him I loved listening to his amazing, to me anyway, stories of when he was young and worked the old steam ferry to the off-shore islands. He'd tell me how he never found a woman who'd put up with his ways long enough to marry him, so he just lived alone and spent his time working to save enough money to drive to the city a hundred miles away to "cut loose" for a week. This lifestyle wasn't unheard of then, and a good many single men who worked long shifts in the mill or lived in the timber camps working in the woods lived this way. Many of the kids I went to school with rarely saw their fathers, especially those whose dads were woodsmen as they'd stay gone weeks at a time. At any rate, once I'd had my first two or three "chats" with Beedub, which was mostly confined to attentive listening on my part, I started to pay a bit of attention to his ways. I knew he had an old car, but never saw him drive it, as apparently he'd been refused a license prior to my arriving in his life. I say an old car, today it'd be considered fairly new in years, but it had a lot of miles on it from what I could tell. I never got a good look at it as it was always backed into the tiny garage, where the horse had now taken up residence.
After several weeks of this strange behavior on Beedub's part, he appeared at the end of his driveway one morning as excited as a toddler at his first real Christmas. He flagged my aunt down and asked her to park on the road so as to allow us to be the first ones to see his new "Horse Mobile". Although a bit confused, my aunt did as he asked as he hied back up the driveway to the barn. A few minutes later we heard an engine start and rev up a bit, then go quiet. A moment or two later the "Horse Mobile" moved slowly out of the barn, and it was a remarkable bit of ingenuity in the eyes of a young, curious boy. Beedub had removed the bumper from the front of his old Chevrolet and attached a draw-bar from one of his old horse-carts in its place. Ahead of the car, in full draft harness and traces, was his poor old horse, complete with blinders. He'd run the traces through a hole he'd made in the firewall after removing the hood. He'd completely removed the transmission and drive-shaft so the local Constable or the State Troopers couldn't ticket him for operating an unlicensed motor vehicle. The engine was still in and working to provide heat, lights and other accessories like wipers and horn. He was proud as a new father as he rolled to a stop at the end of his drive.
The old horse seemed remarkably lively as it pulled the contraption, with Beedub using the car's steering to follow along and the brakes to control his momentum. Beedub explained that the old nag seemed more energetic now that it once again had a task to give it purpose. My aunt was having all she could do to keep from bursting out in peals of laughter, while I was totally amazed. She didn't fare as well later when describing Beedub's buggy to my uncle R, F, and F's wife through fits of guffaws and watery eyes. It so amazed F that he drove all the way to town, intent on going to Beedub's place to see this rig. I accompanied him along with Mrs F, but we never made it all the way, as we encountered the strange wheeled-wonder as we drove through town. Old Beedub had made his maiden trip, the first of many over the next four or five years until he passed away one night in his sleep, about a month after the old horse had breathed its last labored breath.
As an additional little note, after Beedub had been gone a week or so my aunt came home from the milk deliveries one day with the news that Beedub had left a will in which he'd bequeathed almost a million dollars, a huge sum then, to the local hospital, library, and his church. Seems he'd been frugal in lifestyle but very shrewd in his few business dealings. Who would've ever guessed. Until next time, take care.