Last week, the Boy turned 3. I kept it a little late to get him to be able to tell you this himself.
"How old are you?"
"Yes, I see that. Now how old are you?"
"Ok. Yes. But how old are you?"
"RACING CAR BIRTHDAY!"
Yeah. Move over, Thomas. We've got a new vehicle passion. Can you guess the theme of this year's birthday party?
On the way home from Prince Edward Island (still need to put those pictures together), my Bride tossed out some ideas to celebrate a Racing Car Birthday. About halfway through the list, she mentioned soap box cars. I can't remember the rest, now. Partly because I was trying to spot a moose (they had about a million signs for them on the road - it's kind of raising expectations, there, you know Canada? Don't' put the signs out if you don't want me to expect some moose. And why don't I ever see a moose in a zoo? I've been to San Diego. No moose. Dear Canada. That's just selfish.), and partly because I had already sprinted halfway down the path of figuring out what I'd need to do that. Soap box cars are just 50's enough, with the right little bit of splintery-crash potential to make it Boy Birthday Worthy. I think my Bride spotted the gleam that crept into my eye, because she started talking about helmets or something. I sort of tuned it out, so I can't say exactly.
That weekend, by sheer random chance, I found a really old wagon in the swap shed at the dump (or more properly, the transfer station). It was about to fall apart, with rotting wooden panels. The wheels, however, were only slightly rusty, and otherwise in perfect working order.
Clearly, the universe wanted me to build soap box cars.
The first monday back in the office, I trotted over at lunch to a nearby bike shop and asked for 4 identical front tires, cheapish. That got me a funny look, so I had to explain that a) back wheels have gears. I'm not interested in gears. And b) I'm planning on totally mis-using the tires when I get them. When I explained what I had in mind, the bike guy's eyes lit up. (Cambridge Bicycle - those guys seriously rock the bikes). He talked me out of the 10-speed road-racing wheels I was eyeing, and into something a little more rugged and straightforward on the 20" BMX side.
A quick trip to the lumber yard later for some extra bits, and I was ready to roll. Er. Pardon the pun.
Soap box cars are basically 4 wheels on a cart intended to roll down hill under gravity power. In other words, no engine. They usually have steering of some sort. Or at least, I assume so. I'd never actually built one before, so I was kind of going off guess work, so to speak. But the wagon's front set of wheels already had a perfectly good steering handle, so I figured I'd make the most of that, and mounted it to the base of my theoretical first soap box car.
The other one was a bit trickier, though. The rear wheels on your typical Red Flyer wagon are fixed. No handy steering column. Some thoughtful wandering up and down the aisles of the super-box hardware store though, and I had spotted a heavy duty caster held together with a single bolt.
I took the bolt out, removed the wheel, and built a new platform to fix the rear wagon wheels to. Instant pivot. Damn, I'm good.
Mostly the rest of the body was just for show, and I sort of freehanded some rear cabinet areas for the back of the soapbox car. The shape wasn't important, really, except that it would act both as a seat back and a place to fix the rear wheels.
Because of that latter point, I bought heavy duty, 3/4" plywood. I figured that'd hold up to at least a couple of weekends of heavy duty 3 year old use.
The bike wheels are mounted simply through the plywood with a large washer and bolt. The axle was just about long enough to go through once I had drilled out the plywood with a forstner bit to fit the washer flush to the surface.
I added a short 2"x4" underneath the body to stiffen the plank, and the whole thing was surprisingly sturdy.
Soon enough I had the fronts on as well, along with some panels to fill in the box pieces on front and rear. For the jury-rigged rear wheel/castor pivot one, I had to create a wooden handle. This sort of worked, and I was getting a little tired at this point. What the hell. They're 3. What are they going to do, call the Soap Box police on me?
It was about this time that I took one of these near complete cars down the hill in my back yard for a test drive. I figured if it could take me, it would hold up to most anything the kids would do. Of course, I'm a little tall for the car, but the hill wasn't so very steep. I shoved myself in and jumped down the hill. Hard to steer. I made it most of the way down before I tipped the whole thing over and tumbled out onto the grass.
Hmm. Maybe some guard rails are in order.
My Bride made one more half-hearted suggestion that I add "bring your own helmets" to the birthday party invitation. Ha!
We were lined up and ready to go.
Look! Racing car cupcakes! (my Bride is quite crafty in her own right).
Soon enough, the kids came over and leapt into the cars. There was some notion that we'd do proper, organized races. Instead, we sat on the patio and watched the kids hurtle up and down the hill.
Sometimes two at a time.
Or with a push.
We didn't even have to push them back up the hill. They were having so much fun, they'd do it themselves.
Or help one another out.
Eventually, the Critter and a couple of the bigger kids figured out that they could actually perch up on the back of the car, and ride down that way.
Eventually, there was cake. It also had cars on it.
And at the end of the party, everybody got their own Piston Cup. Everybody wins!
Happy birthday, little buddy. Enjoy 3. It doesn't last long enough.