The Push-Cart Years

Just a little news on the tractor front.  We are at a point on the engine where we can start closing it up, but the “closing up parts” are a mess.  So, now that I have been released to drive I gathered together some of these parts (the oil pan, the camshaft gear cover, the valve train cover, plus some misc.) and  tossed the box in the trunk.  The Princess and I drove over to Durham, and I dropped the stuff off at the machine shop.  Buster was busy, but I talked to Robert.  I asked that the items be put through the bath and said, “So what do you think, around $20?  “Oh…maybe more like $25, maybe a little more…”  Man, trying to nail these guys down is like trying to make jello hold still.  Anyway, whatever it costs, the feeling was that the work would be done in a few days.  When I got back home, I found I’d forgotten to take along the manifold, which has the same junk in it that the ports in the engine block had.  Oh well, I’ll take that along when we pick up Monday’s batch.  After getting lost when trying to find this place for the first time last summer, the car can now find its way there on its own.  That’s scary. 

Ongoing in the garage is some paint work, so Sunday I picked up some primer and glossy black paint.  Months ago Gene refurbished the starter and generator, but they still need painting.  It appears that on original equipment these items were black, so that’s what I’ll be painting on some day this week.  By the way, the paint cost nine bucks, so I bumped the Cost-O-Meter accordingly.

The Princess and I were talking the other night and I related a story about the push cart our family had when I was a kid.  No, we didn’t sell burgers from a cart outside the old Fox Head 400 Brewery, although the words do conjure up that image.  This story started like many did back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when my dad came back from a few hours of garage “saling” with the day’s finds.  This day in 1951 he came back with a set of official Soap Box Derby Wheels, including axles.  The soap box derby was a much bigger deal back then than it is now.  Maybe today’s times require entertainment that’s a little bit easier come by than building and entire unpowered racing vehicle from scratch.  Forget about pedal cars like our son Andrew had back in the 70’s, now parents buy their kids battery-powered vehicles. 

The 1950’s were the heyday of the Soap Box Derby Races when up to 70,000 people would assemble in Akron Ohio for the races.  TV and Movie stars would make the scene at the races.  In 1947 actor Jimmy Stewart while acting in the Broadway play, Harvey, actually cancelled a weekend of performances to attend.  Wikipedia says that at its peak the races were one of the top five sporting events in the country in terms of attendance.  The derby events even had their share of scandal, with a number of disqualifications over the years, most notably in 1973 when a kid was caught with an electromagnetic assist in his racer. 

I don’t know what dad thought he’d do with the wheels when he bought them, but he had three little boys and likely figured some fun could be had by making these into something.  Those wheels served as the crucial building blocks for the first version of the vehicle that would become known as the push cart, so named in the family, because it derived its forward motion with the application of a long push stick to the back-end of the cart.  While one person pushed (my dad or older brother at first) the others would scramble aboard for the ride.  Although this was considered great fun in and of itself, my dad felt that the ultimate use for the cart in those first years was to show off his kids in the town’s 4th of July parades.  So, in that first year, here’s how I looked, all set for the parade.

You see those two kids behind the cart?  Note the envy in their eyes?  Here’s a shot of a subsequent year, I’m guessing maybe 1953 or 1954 with all three brothers, Phil and I riding and poor Jim pushing.

Although the parades were for show, the push cart did daily duty on the street in front of our house in Waukesha, WI.  It’s a wonder that thing didn’t end up under the wheels of some car, but somehow we all survived.  The incident I related to the Princess occurred in our neighborhood.  Kids learn from their parents, so I think we can blame this on them.  We’d seen my dad apart from his regular job attempt numerous entrepreneurial ventures.  Often it was as simple as buying things at garage sales, sprucing them up and then reselling them.  A more adventurous undertaking was his home franchise for the sale of “Bubble-O” detergent door to door.  Remember, these were the days of “The Fuller Brush Man.” 

Well, taking a page from dad’s book, one day we kids decided to take everything from the fridge that was saleable load it on the push cart and try hawking it to the construction workers building homes in our neighborhood.  I mean to say, we did a “booming business.”  We were just pleased as punch as we headed home with our days proceeds.  When we got home, however, we were greeted by stern looks from our parents.  Of course, not only had we emptied the refrigerator, but a neighbor had reported that we had been selling beer to the constructions workers!  Oops!

When the family moved from Wisconsin to Illinois, the push cart went with us.  By then the family was buying used lawn mowers at garage sales, refurbishing them and selling them.  It wasn’t long before the latent engineering skills of my brother showed themselves and the push cart became motorized with one of those lawn mower engines.  I can still see in my mind’s eye a video of Jim running that thing up and down the street with our dog, Duke, chasing behind.

Well, this post has been long enough in the making that The Princess and I were able to make a return trip to the machine shop and pick up those parts.  When I went into the shop Robert spotted me and said, “Ah, little problem there, and I said, “Oh, yeah?”  Then I picked-up the oil pan and saw a couple of spots of corrosion, one of which left a whole clean through the pan.  Yup, the Pony strikes again.  Right about now I’m thinkin’ pretty fondly of that old unpowered push cart.  By the way, the $28 for sending the parts through the bath has been added to the Cost-O-Meter.

A final note, I heard from Gene today that his hernia surgery went fine yesterday.  He’ll not be available for tractor work for at least three weeks.  That’s “ok,” Gene, I’ve got plenty of light work, particularly painting, that I can do while you’re recuperating.

Fathers and sons,
So many chances,
A thousand little things
Any one of which
Who knows,
Might change everything.   

Thanks for reading everyone.

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One response to “The Push-Cart Years

  1. Hey Bruce!! It sounds like you guys had a great childhood. You had the first lunch truck in your neighborhood!!! I would have loved to see you guys selling the contents of the family refrigerator (Including the beer). I really enjoy seeing the family pictures too!

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