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Soap Box Racer

by Ron Decuir

In 1954 I was 14 years old, living in Shreveport, Louisiana on top of a hill that afforded challenges and danger. The sidewalk that ran across the front of our house and down to the bottom of a hill was encroached upon by a large tree on the “city side” of the sidewalk. This tree took over a portion of the narrow sidewalk and caused the sidewalk to buckle. This increased the hazard of our Soap Box Races.

The rich kids had regulation Soap Box Racers with special wheels and lubricants. They raced in the official Soap Box Derby on a designated hill in town. My friends and I envied them even though our racers were more like Soap Box Racers than the regulation ones were.

Ours were made of apple crates we got from the back of the A&P grocery store and the wheels and axles were from any old wagon we could find discarded. The chassis was made of rough lumber we found at the monument company in our neighborhood. The brake was a small board we nailed on the side of the chassis. Pulling on the board made the other end of the board drag on the sidewalk, hopefully stopping the contraption. We tied a rope to each end of the front axle, wrapped the rope around a pipe, and fashioned an improvised handle bolted to the pipe to make a steering wheel.'

My racer had a special feature: a “speedometer.” It was make-believe, of course. I made it from an old clock I found in a junk pile. I had removed the escapement mechanism from the clock, so when I wound it up and let it go, it went around and around.

Anyway, on one perilous morning, I journeyed out with my trusty racer. It was going pretty well until I approached the tree. When I pulled the brake, it broke off, and the buckled sidewalk threw me off balance. I was fast approaching the bottom of the hill.

Now, at the bottom of the hill was a creek. We all feared going over the edge of the bank in our racers. We had to make a hard left turn to avoid disaster, I tried to cut my wheels to the left but the steering pipe jammed. I reached down and pulled on the rope and my car rolled over with me under it, I was glad I didn’t go into the creek but after the dust settled, I saw blood squirting out of my leg.

A huge splinter from the rough chassis board must have hit a vein. I bellowed, screamed, and cried until my poor mother ran out the front of the house, down the hill, pulled out the splinter, and rescued me.

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