Car building dreams come crashing to a halt

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The other day, I saw a kid ridin’ down a hill in a homemade car-like thing.

Boy howdy, you talk about bringin’ back memories. This kid’s car was just like the ones we used to make.

It consisted of three, 2x4’s and four wheels. To operate it, you sat on the back axle, had your feet on the front axle that had a rope tied to both ends. Someone would push you down a big hill. You would have the rope in your hands and you would steer usin’ a combination of foot and rope power.

To stop, you had to pull back on a stick that you had nailed to the frame. The other end of the stick would drag the ground, and theoretically, would stop your car. This braking system never worked very well, so you’d end up droppin’ your feet onto the road in hopes of a Flintstone type stop.

In reality, your feet would hit the road and immediately be propelled backward under the back axle. At this time, your upper body would slam down; face first, on the front axle.

But since your knees were now draggin’ on the road, you would eventually come to a stop, providin’, of course, that your flesh held out.

This was the only ride that no one ever yelled afterward, “Me next!”

My cousin Coy and I had made several of these death traps, but none proved to be any good. Then one day, while rummagin’ around my dad’s workshop, we found some stuff to make the ultimate vehicle.

Actually, it was a two-piece vehicle, and we designed it ourselves. The front part was an old push lawn mower with a busted engine and the back part was a garden cart; the kind that is pulled behind a lawn tractor. We attached the tongue of the cart to a crossbar on the handle of the mower.

To operate it, you kneeled in the cart and put your hands on the handle of the lawn mower. This way you could steer. To stop it, all you had to do was pull up on a rope that was attached to a latch, and the back of the cart dumped backwards and dragged on the road.

“You go first,” I said to Coy.

“No way,” he replied. “I went first on the last car we built and I’m still missin’ my knee caps.”

“OK ‘fraidy cat,” I said. “I’ll go first.”

Coy pushed me off at the top of the road. The contraption rolled steadily down the oil-topped road, pickin’ up speed as it went. Finally, as I approached the bottom of the road, I held my breath, and pulled the rope.

The cart dumped backwards onto the road and I came to a textbook stop. I checked myself out. Yep, still in one piece.

“It worked!” I yelled at Coy, who was already racin’ down to where I was.

“Me next!” he yelled as he ran.

Well, it wasn’t long before we were taking other kids for rides, for a nominal fee of course. We were havin’ a great time.

Back in those days, just before nightfall, all the neighbors would gather in someone’s front yard to sit around and talk, and this night was no exception. They were all in my folk’s front yard.

“Hey,” I said. “Let’s all give the grownups a show.”

“How?” asked Coy.

“Let’s all pile in the Horseless Road Chariot (a name we stole from a show we had seen on TV) and ride down in front of my house. Then we’ll pull the rope and drag to a stop. I can just hear them clappin’ now.”

“I don’t know,” said Coy. “We ain’t never tried more’n two people in it at the same time.”

“Quit bein’ such a worry wart,” I said. “It’ll be OK.”

We all started gettin’ into the cart. There was Coy and me, Greg Hunt, Little Rusty, his little brother Wee Whoa, and of course Bones; Wee Whoa’s stupid dog. We decided since Greg was the strongest he would push us off and then jump in. I was steerin’ and everyone else was just sitting there gettin’ ready to enjoy the ride.

After Greg gave a big push, and jumped in, we were off. It was a pretty good way down to my house, so by the time we got there; we were clippin’ along pretty good. Just as we passed in front of my house, I could see all of our folks lookin’ and pointin’. We all smiled at waved at them. Then it was time to hit the brakes. I yanked on the rope, but nothin’ happened. I yanked again. Same thing, nothin’ happened. With all of us in the cart, there was too much pressure on the latch and it wouldn’t come open allowin’ the cart to dump.

“AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” I yelled. “It won’t stop!”

“Hit the ditch!” yelled Coy.

I steered for the ditch. The mower went into the ditch fine, but instead of comin’ up the other side, like we figured, it slammed into the bank and stopped. The momentum of the cart pushed against the handle of the mower, to which my hands were attached.

The handle shot forward, followed closely by me. As my face dug into the ground, the cart’s tongue imbedded into the bank of the ditch and started flippin’ forward with, I might add, all of its passengers.

The cart miraculously cleared my crumpled body and flipped all the way over, with everyone still intact. That is, until it landed.

As it hit the ground, kids went flyin’ in every direction. Bones had bailed out earlier, provin’ that he wasn’t as stupid as he looked.

The parents gathered around and turned over kids to see if any were theirs. When they found one that looked familiar, they’d pick ‘em up by the back of their britches like a suitcase, and head for home.

All but my parents, that is. After they made sure that I was alive, I was informed, in no uncertain terms, that my vehicle buildin’ days were over.

And just think -- I could have been the next Henry Ford.

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