Dads And Go Carts

It seems that virtually everything these days is manufactured for kids.  If you remember the old Our Gang Comedies you would see that in that pre-electronic world the kids made lots of their own toys and play things or at least they got help from their dads.   When is the last time you show a home made wagon?  They aren’t that complicated to make but have you seen one?  Even the tree houses these days are mostly pre-fabricated.  The kids used to build their own in the back yard and some of them were pretty fancy.  Those tree houses you see in the movies these days are pretty close to the ones that sprinkled around the neighborhood where I grew up.  We used to make our own stilts to walk on and create bows and arrows and even fake planes or cars.  Of course we some times had a little help from Dad.

In my neighborhood when I was about 12 there were a couple of guys who had built themselves go carts.  They weren’t called that then.  Theyd were just soapbox racers with engines on them.  The Soapbox derby was a big deal then when they would have the competition every summer.  I suppose they still do them but they sure don’t get any attention anymore.   I thought those things were so cool and my dad knew how much I would love to have one.  Nothing was every said but then one day my dad brought home a bunch of equipment and materials and said we were going to build a go-cart for me for my birthday.  My dad was from that old school where a guy was expected to know a little about a lot.  That is how to do things with your hands.  It is a shame he never got to go to college he would have made a terrific engineer.  He had a real eye for knowing how things worked and how to build or make most anything.  He could do carpentry; he knew about being a glazier; do basic plumbing of all kinds, build the molds and mix and pour cement for curbs, patios or even foundation ,could do electrical wiring and could certainly put in all the fixtures of any kind, he could weld and knew how to take apart and re build most any kind of engine, either electric or gas.

He took some 1/4 inch angle iron and welded the frame for the car.  Then he drilled and bolted on 2×4’s to that to add the rest of the structure.  He used some old wheels and axles from a wagon for the wheels.  He build the connections for the front wheels so they could be connected to the steering column.  He used a U joint from somewhere for the front wheels.  The steering column was a 1/2 inch pipe and he welded on a steering wheel from a riding lawn mower.  He got a seat from a riding mower.  He rigged up the brake and the gas pedals on his own.  I got to watch all this and “help”, of course my help consisted mostly of just handing him tools and bracing things on occasion.  

The brake was a plate in fastened to the rear so that when you stepped on the brake the wire would pull it up against the rear wheels.  The engine was an old lawn mower engine that he mounted just above the rear wheels and right behind the seat.   There was a line running from the gas pedal up to the carburetor on the engine; it was threaded through some eye bolts he placed in the frame.  The more you pushed the gas pedal the more the gas was injected into the engine.  The whole thing was about 6 or 7 feet long.  It wasn’t a pretty piece.  There was no “body” but all the essential parts were there.  You started the engine by pulling a rope cord just like you would on a lawn mower.

Mom was NOT excited about  the whole project.  She thought it was a dangerous idea from the git go.  Especially the idea of riding on the streets in the neighborhood.   Dad was always very careful about everything but this is one time he overruled Mom and went ahead.   It took about a week to get the project done.  My pals on the block would come by every day to see the progress and give their opinion on the best way to proceed.   He finally got everything ready and we were set to give it a try.  The engine fired up and it was loud but it hummed.  All the basics worked, gas, brakes and steering and it was time to give it a spin.  Dad took it out for the first test run. He didn’t go far but wanted to make sure it worked and that the brakes would function properly.  My friends were there for the maiden trip.   I felt like Charles Lindbergh.  I got in and pressed the gas and sure enough I was off down the street.  Man, that was fun.  Tooling around the block in my very own “car”. 

Dad had built it so soundly that it was very heavy for the engine.  We lived in an area that was hilly.   So sometimes unless I had a little head of steam it couldn’t make it up the inclined streets.  I would have to get out and push it.  On the down hill or level ground it would work fine.  I never said a word to Dad about it being under powered for the hills but he knew it was too weak.  He replaced the engine one night for me.   I drove that thing off and on for a year or two and then became and teen ager and got interested in sports and whatever else teenagers did then.   I really don’t remember what happened to that go-cart.  I know it wasn’t with us when we made our next move a few years later but by then I was 15 or so.   I’ve never had a car though that I loved any more than that go-cart dad built for me.   As an adult I realize how much extra effort and time that took for dad, he had a job and plenty to do but he always took the time to do for us.  A good example is the best teacher for life.

“Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain in insight”.  Proverbs

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Filed under Culture, Economics, family, history

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