Today was my father's birthday. He's no longer here, as many of my readers know, but I still think of him a lot, and this post about Barbie Jeep racing on Bayou Renaissance Man's site brought back a real good memory of our time together.
Back when I was maybe eleven or twelve or so, I got the idea to make an un-powered go-cart out of an old lawnmower frame, minus the engine and handle. I took the wheeled body, painted it all slick--complete with racing numbers--added a rope on the front which served both for pulling up the hills and for holding onto for the ride down, and off my dad and I went with it to the local toboggan hill, which didn't get much other use come summertime.
Once there, we dragged my homemade instrument of personal destruction up to the top, my dad got his camera ready, and then I launched myself down the hill like an amateur Evel Knievel.
Faster and faster that cart would go--as fast if not faster than any sled in the wintertime. Of course the problem with that cart was that I could neither steer it or brake it and once in motion, my only real option was to hang on for all I was worth until it stopped. Sounds simple, but in actual practice, there was always a bunch of tractor tire ruts at the bottom that added just that much more spice to the ride, because if/when I hit one at speed, they were usually more than sufficient to flip me over or send me tumbling end over end. As a result, I very rarely ever managed to reach the fence at the end of the run, which was just as well because the cart had, as I've said, no brakes. Hitting the fence wasn't much less painful than hitting the ruts. Looking back, I got hurt on in some fashion every run, but I kept taking it back up the hill for more because I was a kid and kids were tougher back then. Cuts and bruises were badges of honor and there was no such thing as an X-Box to give you your rush. No, if you wanted a rush, you had to go outside and get it yourself, and without a helmet or any sort of padding, usually with your dad standing right there cheering you on, if you had any kind of a dad worthy of the title.
And my dad was always good for helping and supporting on stuff like that, be it building bike ramps for jumps in the street, model rockets, football or baseball games, or stupid ideas like that carts of death. He always made the time and encouraged me to try things, even if it meant letting me learn from my own mistakes.
I learned a lot about physics from that lawnmower body go-cart, and not a little about prudent decision-making as well, although it took a while for that last part to really catch.
Thanks, Pop. And Happy Birthday.