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.


Mies said...

Mike, another very entertaining story of your adventures as a kid. I guess young adult would be a better term for this story.
This was a learning experience for you & J. You both learned from working out all the bugs in your souped-up go-cart. Another lesson was, it's lonely at the top..."Extreme" group...Kinda sneaky how they got you two to go away.
Sad, your friend's death but that can be the price paid for a risk takers life...
Good story, thank you, sir....

Patricia said...

Too bad, Mike, I don't think that was fair play, either. Of course, looking at it from the other side, it sure would have meant an increasing amount of disinterest and fewer entries in a race they couldn't possibly win on the part of other participants. So, it was unfair, but probably the only thing to be done. Life's unfair, often, but I don't have to like it, do I?
Good story.

lori hahn said...

So, next time the kidlings have a project to build something like this, I'm calling you, okay?

Annette said...

Mike, your liking for motorbikes and technique must have been in you from childhood on. You and your pal were disappointed then but there are always those little adventures in our life that characterise us. And out came a great guy.

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Aaron said...


Good story. I know we have butted heads on Red Hogs blog, but you seem to be a good guy. Just wanted you to know that.