In writing about my adventures in crafting I began to think about the first experience I had with making something.
|second best looking car|
I was in cub scouts. My dad had gotten a pinewood derby car kit. I drew up a design that was cool and dad helped me cut it out with a coping saw. Dad gave me some scraps to cut on so I would know how to use the saw properly before starting on the kit. I think the practice was more to keep me occupied, dad was very smart like that. I recall he helped a lot because it looked, really, pretty good. I sanded, and sanded. I didn’t know at the time that sanding, and sanding, and sanding some more was going to be a big part of my future.
I still remember him taking the car from me and looking at it and asking if I thought I had sanded it enough. I remember showing him how I still needed to get all the lines out like he showed me.
"Boy, you have all the lines out ."
"No I don’t, see look at these." He chuckled and said," If you get those lines out it will be an awful thin car. Those are the lines of grain in the wood they go all the way trough." He explained the nature of wood and what wood grain was.
I know now why wood workers are suckers for every new and improved sanding device that is made.Slap a label on it claiming It will save you hours, tell one tell all. It will remove warts, fix lumbago, and make you the world’s greatest lover.... I’m sure when snake oil salesmen were outlawed they realized there was a much easier and more lucrative way to make a living. Hey just tell these guy’s it makes sanding easier; they’ll buy anything, at any price.
We assembled the car, in the “old days” you had to glue on an axle holder. Of course it needed some more sanding. Then it was time to get serious, painting. We didn’t just go to walmart and get a can of spray paint. Come to think of it there was no walmart. My dad got a ½ pint can of oil base paint, in the blue color I wanted. I had to learn to brush the paint on just so, and then, "leave it alone son, and let it dry." The leaving it alone part was the hardest. I’m not sure how dad knew I was playing with it when he came home. I figured it must have been some dad secret thing but more likely my sister ratted me out. It never dawned on me that finger prints all over the tacky paint was a dead giveaway.
Again the most important thing was more sanding. I used a different paper and a little bit of water. Man it was smooth, but I was going to learn the proper way and it was just the beginning. A couple coats of paint later dad said I was ready for the last step. Man this thing was perfect what else could there be? More sanding! But not just any sanding. He got me a piece of felt and some rotten stone. That and a little water and I was rubbing that thing as if a genie would appear. If one had, I knew what my first wish was gonna be, here you rub this thing for a while!
It was almost done. Dad had taken the plastic wheels to work and turned them on a metal lathe. They were absolutely perfect. It was years later after dad was gone that I found out that he was one of the best machinists. Tradesmen from Phillip Morris told me that he was the best they had ever seen, bar none, though I never had the privilege to see for myself.
We did the final assembly and it looked great. I was like "wow, I’m gonna take this thing and roll it and make it fly across the ground." You can do that son but by the time you have the derby you won’t have a car. He said. You did a lot of work to not have a car in a week. So it went into a box and it sat and tempted me all week long.
Saturday came. It felt a lot like Christmas. I just knew I was going to get the best looking car award, and I knew it would be fast. We arrived early so dad could help assemble the track--which he had fabricated. Dad was putting up the track with the help of some other dads. All of us scouts wanted to show off our cars, but every dad there wanted to avoid the inevitable disaster that would happen if they didn’t keep a tight rein on all the cars.
We had a big table to put them on so everyone could oooh and ahhh over them. There were some great cars, the dads had given it their all. I noticed a couple of pretty plain cars but one in particular. I still remember thinking, "man, they don’t know anything about what it takes to make a derby car."
Finally it was time to get ready to race. At the weigh in of the cars, they could only be a few ounces, mine was perfect, not a gram off. The dads were making their way through the racing field of cars--"Boy, this was going to be something!"
Then a car, really a black block of wood, was being handed to my dad to be weighed. I couldn't contain my comments: "Dad, that car isn’t built the right way it’s against the rules."
Hush, he said.
"But dad, he didn’t do anything but paint the wood and look at the wheels they put washers on the wheels!" Hush boy! he said quietly.
I wouldn’t be deterred that easily. His car was to heavy, and I wasn’t going to be beaten by a ugly rule breakin cheater. "Dad..." I started to say something louder, he looked down at me and said “ don’t embarrass me son” it was in a tone that I had not every really heard before. He leaned over and quietly said he would talk to me later and that “was enough”. I was upset , he had taught me that "the rules were the rules." I guess the rules were the rules except when they weren’t. Why was he so special?
I couldn’t believe it when all the adults “unanimously” decided that this kid had the best looking car. They must be blind. The only sandpaper that car saw was if he walked past a piece on the way to the can of paint he dipped the rough block in. This isn’t fair I wanted to scream.
We finally got to racing. My car was good, real good. It won that day, and it won a lot more days. It was good enough to go to scout-o-rama at the state fair grounds. I remember going a long way in that also. I believe I got to the semifinals,maybe the finals. I was happy to win but the trophy was bitter sweet. I should have gotten the best looking car too.
Dad knew I was disappointed. On the way home he told me to be proud of my accomplishment and to be thankful for my blessings. "I deserved the best car" I said." I worked hard, a whole lot harder than that kid. His was a piece of junk."
"His mother had to help him son, she did the best she knew how."
"To bad, it was ugly, everyone could see it was ugly. Just because his dad didn’t help, why should we have to lose!"
"Son, his dad is gone, and probably won’t come back" he said.
"So why is that my fault , my car was better, everyone’s car was better."
Son, his father sacrificed for you, me , all of us. He is missing in action in Vietnam. You watch the news on it every night with me.
I remember seeing all the women crying when that little boy went up to get his trophy. I though his mom was so happy that he won--but that wasn't why she was crying, I guess it was becoming clearer. I looked at my car, our car, my dad and mine’s car. I didn’t say anything more.
The time has come and passed since the next generation of pinewood derby cars. My sons learned the same rules, mostly sanding. I suppose if I have grand children they will receive the same thorough training. I was able to help a lot of kids make derby cars. I would open my shop and have derby car night.
|Left: Jordan Right: Gene|
We would cut and sand anything they could design. We added the weight and even found instructions on how to make great cars with all the secrets. I gave each kid what ever they needed to enjoy that great car. We did it for years. When we moved to Campbellsville I had a new friend who was the scout master. And sure enough I was opening the doors for scouts to use my shop to make their dream derby cars. I even had the opportunity to design and build the new racetracks for the scouts.
It is closing in on 50 years since the day that the ugly derby car won. I still see the look on that young boys face when he received that trophy. My dad gave a kid, missing his father, a small gift that day. The gift he gave to me, is still living. All of my children have continued to give of themselves, helping others when they can. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you think. You may think it’s a waste of time,or that it’s not appreciated, but in the end there will always be trophy waiting for you.