The darkness gave way to the morning sun, raising in the east. It’s rays spread throughout the town as people began to awake to the new day. The milkman was delivering to the houses on Walnut Street. Down at the bakery, George the baker had finished the day’s bread and cookies. He had worked most of the night so things would be ready when the folks in this little village, started their day.
Blueberry Lane was where the Carters lived. Just two blocks from the main street. Big John Carter with his wife Mable, and their three children, lived in the two story white house at the end of the block. It was strange how children were named back then. There was Martha, Mary and Marvin the youngest. In the neighborhood, he was known as just Butch. Even though he was a skinny kid, he never let it bother him in the least. His thoughts on life were, “How was it built and can I make one too”. He was what they called a “Tinkerer”. Dad had no problem with it, but mom seemed to worry a lot. “What if he gets hurt or blows himself up or something”, she would say. “No sense worrying about it until it happens” was dad’s comment.
Sometimes when he wanted something to do and had nothing to tinker with, he would go down to the railroad station and watch the trains come in. “How nice it would be to travel to some far off place”, he thought while the passengers were disembarking. “I wonder where this train is going today”. Old Jed, the stationmaster said one day, “You can tell where they’re going by putting your ear to the track out there. If you listen hard and long, it will tell you the destination of the last train. Also when the next one is coming”. “Sure”, he thought. But to please Old Jed, he tried it. To his surprise, he heard the train “Way down the track!”
“Where are you going with mom’s cutting knife Marvin?” asked big sister Martha as he was going out the kitchen door. “I’ll bring it right back” was the answer. “I wonder what he’s up to this time”, remarked Mary. “Who knows what he is thinking of half the time”, said Martha. Later on in the day, he was flying, a home built, box kite that he had made out of a two by four. The cutting knife was no worse for the wear, other then that nick in the blade
One saturday afternoon, the old Ford jalopy came down the street back firing and making smoke out the exhaust pipe. You could tell when uncle Ralph was going to the dump, because of all the “stuff” hanging out the rear end of this one time car, (converted into a truck). It wasn’t so much that one of the headlights hung at slight angle, or that it only had one door on the passenger side. But, because some would say, “Why, if it wasn’t for the rust holding them on, the fenders would have fallen off long ago”. It was his “pride and joy”. Why would he ever want to get rid of it? “Besides”, he would say, ‘The wipers work”.
“Going to the dump are ya Ralph?” asked big John. “Ya I got a lot of stuff that even I can’t use anymore”, he came back. “You got something going that way John?” “Ya I sure do, just hang a minute”, said John as he went into the house. When he returned, he had a small bag and Butch. “Ah, he wants to go with ya. Be all right with ya?” “No problem with me brother”, said Ralph. “Okay you can go, but only because he’s your uncle. And you mind him, hear?” replied John. “No worry John, we are two of a kind” said Ralph. “That’s the problem”, thought big John.
The old car, ah, truck headed down the road toward the dump with the two of them in their glory. Like uncle Ralph always said, “One man’s junk is another’s treasure”. They bumped along the dirt road with the dust flying into the cab. It was just luck that there were still springs left in the seats. Other wise, you would have felt every rock in the road. As they climbed the last hill, out as far as the eyes could see, JUNK. “WOW!’ blared out the kid. “Never saw so much stuff”. “Lets get rid of the garbage first and then we’ll hit that BIG PILE” laughed Ralph. He knew the thrill of the big find.
After they had got rid of the garbage, they headed for the hill of junk. Butch couldn’t get the door open fast enough, as the “truck” came to a stop. He was the first to start digging. “Wow, look what someone just threw away!” said Butch while holding on to an old record player. “The crank still works”. There was all kinds of things for a young man to look over. Each time he saw something that he thought he should bring home, uncle Ralph would remind him of what his dad would say. “Ya you’re right”, he would say. After about two hours of hunting, Ralph said, “Well young man, I do think that we should be heading back”. “Ya, I suppose you’re right, Uncle Ralph” he said with a sad face.
Ralph fired up the “truck” and headed for the “out” gate which took them past the rear of the junk pile. Butch looked out the open window with his chin resting on his folded arms. The thoughts of leaving “All this treasure” was too much to handle. “What a wasted day this has been”, he mumbled. “Maybe next week kid” assured uncle. “Hold It!” shouted Butch. “Stop!” Ralph put on the brakes and the truck came to a stop. “What is it kid?” asked his uncle. “Over there!” pointed the kid, as he leaped from the vehicle. Ralph slid from his seat and ran after him. “What do you see kid?” hollered uncle. “Buggy Wheels!” he shouted. Sure enough, there laid an old baby buggy with all four wheels, axles and all. What a find. Every kid knows that this makes the best down hill racers. The two of them worked together to retrieve this priceless treasure. They loaded it into the back of the truck and with no rope to tie it down, Butch held on through the space where the back window was.
After they got back to Big John’s place and had off loaded the “treasure”. Ralph said as he drove away, “You’re on your own kid”. “Thanks alot” was the reply. “What we got here, some more junk?” asked dad, as he came out the door. “No dad, this isn’t junk, but a future down hill racer”, he assured. “Why, when I get done with this buggy, it will be the pride of the neighborhood”. “Just as long it’s not the sore of the neighborhood”, assured his Father, with a twinkle in his own eye.
“Number please,” asked the operator. “Hi, this is Butch Carter, can you get me Billy Jackson over on Maple Street?” he asked. “Sure, I can do that for you Butch. Oh by the way, how is that racer doing?” asked the operator. “”Wonder how she knew so soon?” he thought. “Uncle Ralph, right?” he said. “Right”, was the answer. “Ring, Ring”. “Hello” said Billy’s Mom. “Is Billy home?” asked Butch. “Yes he is, just a minute” she said. “Hi Butch, I’ll be over in a flash, bye”. “Click”. “Boy! Things sure get around in a small town” he thought as he hung up the phone. “Well, I guess I should get started” he said as he walked out the kitchen door.
He barely got to the back yard, when Billy come flying around the corner of the house, with a tool box in his hand. “Are you ready to start?” he said while out of breath. “I was ready, but I had to wait for you to show up... didn’t I?” remarked Butch.
Butch laid out a crude plan of sorts, well lets say a piece of brown paper from a grocery bag, with scratch marks that looked like a chicken had been digging for worms. Anyway, such as it was, it could be read by any kid under seventeen years old. “This is how we’re going to build the best racer in town, Billy” remarked Butch. “It don’t look much like a racer to me” came back his best friend. “Well if you look at it from my side of the plan, then you might think different” whipped out Butch. “Oh ya, I see what you mean” said Billy as he came around to the “right side”. “All we need is....” started Billy. “Everything” said his friend. So the two of them headed down to the local sawmill, owned by the Winterstien family.
“Hi Mr. Winterstien” they both said at the same time. “What can I do for you boys today?” asked the big boss of the mill. “I don’t suppose you’ve come looking for material for some dumb thing like a four wheeler, are ya?” “Well yes, how did you know”, asked Butch. “Uncle Ralph right?” “That’s right” was the answer. With that, he pointed to the scrap woodpile. “Take what you need boys” said Mr. Winterstien. “We’re just looking for the main board. You know, the one that has to hold up the works.” assured Butch. “Oh you mean the undercarriage?” asked the boss. “Ya, that’s it” said Billy. “Go ahead then and pick out what you want. But be careful while you do your digging. Okay” remarked Mr. Winterstien. “No problem there” they assured him.
It was quite a sight to see two young fellows, walking down Main Street with a long board. Lilly Jones, the librarian, passed them on the sidewalk and make a comment like “There’s another one!” They looked quite puzzled at each other, but shrugged it off. It wasn’t until after they passed the automobile garage and they heard the two mechanics talking about the “big race”, that they knew something was up. As they got close to O’Shawnassy’s tavern and Jake Mac Griffen stumbled out, that they got the real scoop. “I see there lads (hic) that you got the makings of a fine (hic) down hill racer (hic). Could it (hic) be that you might be entering (hic) the big race?” “What Big Race?” they said together. “You might not (hic) be knowing of the (hic) race, lads?”, he stammered. “Why it’s in (hic) three weeks”. “How come we hadn’t heard a thing?” asked Billy. “I don’t know,” said Butch with that look on his face. “But we’re going to do something about it and we are going to Win!”
The next few days was spent on finding all the parts for their racer. At the grocery store they got an apple box. An orange crate from Miss Beaverton, over on Duncan Drive that she had just thrown out her back door. The rope came from part of Billy’s mom’s clothesline, which they promised to replace after they sold all their cast iron to the junkman. With a broomstick and a couple of pulleys, “loaned to them”, and they were ready to build.
The first thing to do was to lay out where the axles would go and get them nailed down. It was important that they were nailed down good, so they wouldn’t move. The front axle which had been nailed to a two-by-four with a hole in the center, that was bolted to the undercarriage. It took at least twenty nails to do the job. Next the broomstick had to be mounted between two boards, one taller then the other, so the stick would be the right height for the steering wheel. Both boards had holes drilled in them at the right angle to hold the broomstick. Once they were nailed in place and the stick was put through the holes, a washer had to be put on both sides of the bottom board. Then two small holes were drilled through the stick one on each side of the washers and a nail was poked through. That kept the stick from slipping out of place. After the orange crate was in place and nailed down, the rope was tied to the right front axle and threaded to a pulley inside the box. From there, the rope was wrapped around the stick four times then lead through the pulley on the other side, to the left axle. An old wagon wheel was add to the top of the stick by using two pieces of angle iron and attached to the stick. When you turned the wagon wheel, the stick caused the rope to pull in the direction you wanted, which made the front wheels to turn or go straight. They greased the holes for the stick, with lard. The next day, they would put on the apple box to sit on and do some testing.
“Push Billy, Push” said Butch. “We got to make sure it steers good before we try the big hill tonight.” “Yes, it must steer right Butch (puff, puff)” returned Billy. “But when do I get (puff, puff) my turn?” “Won’t be long now” was the answer. After they “practiced” a while and got the feel of it. They took it back to Butch’s house and covered it up so others wouldn’t know what they had. “We had better get some rest so we can try the hill tonight” reminded Billy. “See you tonight then, about eleven?” “Ya about eleven. I’ll meet you at the corner of the street.” said Butch.
Because it seemed that every kid in town knew about this big race and didn’t tell these two friends. They decided to give the other kids something to race. “Tommy Swanson is really the one to worry about, “ said Billy. “That’s plenty enough, all right. He has wiped out every race that has been in this county.” “That’s because his folks are rich and he can get the best equipment” came back Butch. “We’ve got a workout”. Their folks didn’t know that these two were out in the night. If they would have, they won’t be heading up the big hill right now. When they got to the top of the hill, the racer was turned around and aimed toward the bottom. “Are you ready Billy”, asked Butch as he grabbed the steering wheel. “Climb on and hang on”. Billy jumped on the back, gave a push and off they went.
The racer started a little slow at first, but then picked up some speed. By the time it had gone twenty feet, it was doing “Ninety Per”, or so it seemed. The two boys were hanging on with all that they had. It kept building speed the farther it went down the big hill. The wheels were starting to wobble a little, but with more speed, they straightened right out. It was lucky that the big hill was at the far end of the town, because of the screaming for joy that was coming from this new vehicle on the road. After they had reached the bottom and sat for a moment to catch their breath, they pulled their “car” back up the hill. This time, Billy would do the steering, so he could get the thrill of it all.
Everything was ready and away they went. The racer built up to running speed, as it headed down the long slope. The wheels wobbled a little, but everything was okay and they flew down the hill. To their amazement, it preformed like a dream. When they finally came to a stop, Billy said “Wow, was that a ride or was it not?” “We did have a good run, didn’t we?” replied Butch. “But I think that we better get back to our homes before someone finds out what we are up to.” “See ya tomorrow then,” said Billy as he headed towards his house.” “Tomorrow” was the come back.
It was hard to keep their secret from the other kids in the neighborhood and because of the pride that they both had in their “New” racer. All they could think of for the rest of the week, was how to keep the others from finding out about the big surprise, that they would spring upon the town on Saturday’s Race. It was a hard thing to do, when everyone in this small town knew what everyone else was doing.
“Ring, Ring.” “Hello” said Mrs. Carter. “Yes he’s here. Just a minute Billy. Oh Marvin, Billy wants to talk to you. Says that it’s important” “Okay Mom” came back Butch. “What is it Billy? You want to what? When? Okay I’ll be there in a half an hour.” What was that all about son?” asked dad. “Oh Billy says that there is a race on the big hill today and wanted to know if I wanted to go with him and watch. That’s all” explained Butch. “Okay” said his father, with a twinkle in his eye. “The rest of the family will be up there later to watch also.” The spring on the screen door slammed the door shut with a loud bang as he flew through it. “My, he sure is a big hurry just to watch a down hill race” said Mable. “Well at least he’ll be safe on the sidelines, won’t he John?” “Yes dear” replied her husband as a smile spread from ear to ear. “
“Do you think that we hid our car good enough?” asked Billy as they climbed the big hill. “You worry to much, Billy. Like I said the other night when we were looking for a place to stash it, that old truck box out in the field, would be the best place. It has been there for years and every body is use to seeing it there” reminded Butch. “Ya, you right Butch. I guess that I’m just to nervous about this race,” said Billy. “Me too, but we ‘ve got to keep our heads on straight so we wouldn’t mess up and lose, or something” came back his friend. The two buddies went up the big hill, through the crowd that was starting to assemble along the raceway. Several of the towns’ boys were laughing and pointing at them as they passed by. Tommy Swanson was standing over on the right side of the hill with his hands on his hips. It was almost like he was taunting them. “Don’t pay them no mind Billy. They don’t know everything”, reminded Butch, as they hurried over the hill and to the truck box. They swung open the door and looked at the most beautiful racer in the town. It looked real good, after they had painted it bright red with a silver strip down the side. The two bean cans, nailed on the front, did look like headlights.
As they can back over the hill. They saw that one race had already started. “We’ll get in the next one Billy” assured Butch. Everyone’s eyes were on those that were racing down the hill and didn’t notice the two “strangers” as they got in line for the next race. The crowd was cheering for the leader of the last race, as the “red racer” slid into place at the far left on top of the hill. As there was no rules about how many could ride in the cars, the two of them climbed aboard and sat waiting for the start. They were wearing the old aviation leather headcovers, that Jake Mac Griffen had loaned them the night before. Said he, “When would I (hic) ever get to (hic) wear them (hic) again.” He used to fly an airplane before he found the “Mother load” at O’Shawnassy’s tavern. With the goggles over their eyes, no one even knew who they were.
“Alright lads, let’s get yourselves ready for this next race. The one who wins this one, will race the winner of the last race” announced George Morgan, the self-appointed race coordinator. “Okay now, 1.2.3...Go!” With that, the six cars started down the long hill. At first, it was slow going. But as they gradually built up their speed, one would pull ahead of the other and then a few dropped behind. The red racer fell into fourth place. The speed built up a little more and the wheels started to wobble again. At the half-way point down the hill they were in second place. Paul Wagner ran off the track when his right rear wheel fell off and ran into Jeff Anderson, taking him out. It became a neck and neck race as the two cars headed towards the finish line. “Duck your head down Billy, it will cut the wind” hollered Butch. The little racer just seemed to speed right up and crossed the line first. “Pull on the breaks Billy, pull on the breaks” shouted Butch as they both grabbed for the break handles. “Keep on your goggles so no one can tell who we are.”
When they had pulled their racer back up the hill and had it turned around for the next run, is when they found out who it was that they would be up against. Tommy Swanson! It would be like a Cadillac against a model “A” Ford. The wheels that carried his car, were the best that money could buy. They had ball bearings. And to add more weight for his car, Tommy had big Charley Duncan sit in the rear seat. He was so big that he had to get in first. Charley was a sixth grader and weighed more then the two of them put together. “Oh Boy”, mummers Billy. “Don’t worry about it. We will do the best we can” came back Butch.
“Ready...1...2...3 go!” yelled George. And off they went. The “Blue Cadillac” just shot from the start line, like it had a motor in it. It was already two car links ahead. Down the hill they went, with the crowd cheering them on. “The Blue racer ahead by three links and now the Red ah, ah racer is slowly catching up,” said the announcer through the yelling tube. “And now they are at the half way point. It looks like the Red one is catching up to the Blue car.” The crowd was yelling “Come on Blue, come on Blue.” It seemed like no one was calling for the Red car, because no one could tell who they were, except two lone families. “Come on Red” they shouted. “Come on Red.” “They do have a chance, don’t they John?” asked Mable. “Yes they do” assured her husband. Billy Jackson’s folks agreed. “But only if they did what I told them to do” remarked Ralph. “What’s that?” everyone wanted to know. “Steer straight and hang on,” said Ralph with a smile.
Up on the hill, the battle was going strong. The cars were now neck and neck and it looked like there was a chance to win. “Hang on Billy, with all you got” screamed Butch. About that time, Tommy looked over at them and swerved the Blue car towards them. “He’s trying to hit us Butch,” yelled Billy. “Don’t worry Billy, I see him” yelled Butch. The Blue hit the Red so hard that it caused them to swerve off the main track. The pressure on the wheels pulled too hard on the broomstick and it broke. The red car started to wobble all over the place and looked like they were about to crash. Butch reach inside the orange crate and grabbed the rope and Billy pulled out the broomstick and threw it out of the car. It took no time at all, to regain control of this amazing racer. Straight down the hill they went after the big Blue. Even though Blue was ahead of them now, they were gaining all the time. But would it be enough, and could they pass in time?
The bottom of the hill and the finish line was coming up fast. They were now neck and neck again. The line was just another fifty feet away. “Come on Red” the crowd, shouted. “Come Red.” They had seen what Tommy had tried to do and they didn’t like it at all. The Blue car moved ahead of the Red, just a little and everybody held their breath. Just ten feet to go and Blue was still ahead. “OH NO!” shouted the crowd. All of a sudden the back end of Old Blue hit the ground in a scraping sound. The weight of Charley Duncan was too much for the rear axle and it broke. That stopped it short of the line by just two inches. Big Red crossed the line in glory, The Winner!
The crowd gathered around the Red racer as soon as they got it stopped. The two of them climbed out and took off their goggles and leather helmets. To the surprise of the crowd it was Butch Carter and Billy Jackson! The announcer ran up, almost out of breath and said, “Tell us, what was your secret to wining this race? They looked at each other and then to their families, with Uncle Ralph and shouted altogether, “Buggy Wheels!”
Joseph Marvin McManus
13 January 2001