Flying along with my Iron Horse
I’ll never forget the day back in 1954 when I finally talked my folks into letting me buy an old go-cart from a friend.
It probably didn’t seem like a big deal to them. After all, it only cost ten bucks and was just some old boards held together by bolts with four wheels attached. But to me, it was one of the greatest pieces of engineering ever. Besides that, it was already track-proven.
The cart consisted of one large two-by-six about seven foot long. Near one end was a two-by-four connected by a bolt and washers so that it would swivel, thus providing the steering. Several two-by-fours formed the back platform on to which a gasoline motor could be attached.
The wheels and axles weren’t just the ordinary run-of-the-mill kind but were real honest-to-goodness soapbox derby, tested and certified.
Attached to one of the wheels was a large v-belt pulley, which served as the power source when connected to a motor. A strip of steel about a foot long with a series of washers and bearings served as the clutch.
The only drawback to my purchase was the fact that the deal didn’t include a motor. Actually, the original motor had self-destructed on its first test run and that was the reason the cart was available in the first place.
So with the help of my buddies, Slick and Kooker, the cart had been pushed home and parked in our front yard.
Before long, the word went out around town that I needed a motor. This was big news because the usual searches were for things like comic books or baseball gloves. In just a day or so, I learned of a motor looking for a new home.
Trouble was, it wasn’t exactly one of the latest models. In fact, the company that had produce it had removed it from their products list and concentrated on making outboard motors.
Little things like that weren’t about to stand in the way of a want-to-be race track driver, so for the grand total of $5, I was the proud owner of my very own Johnson Iron Horse gasoline motor.
To say that the motor ran fast was an understatement, but there were a couple of drawbacks. First, it took an Act of Congress to get it started and second, once it started, it was nearly impossible to stop.
Due to the fact that the motor was no longer produced, parts weren’t easy to find, so it was a case of make-do. One of the big problems was the spring for the kickstarter was missing, so that meant pushing the cart to get the engine to start.
That presented a problem because talking two kids into pushing the cart while I sat on it wasn’t an easy task. They would much rather sit on the cart and let me push.
And once the thing started, my problems weren’t over. That old Iron Horse never wanted to quit. Have you ever tried to pull the wire off a spark plug when the motor ís running? Let me tell you, it can be a shocking experience.
For the first week or so I didn’t venture further than our driveway, but that started getting a little boring. Before long, I would make a few passes around the block. This was a no-no, but I figured my folks would never know.
Trouble was, all the side streets were gravel. To really test the cart, I needed a hard-surfaced road.
I finally worked up the courage to try it on the blacktop road running from Main Street to the school house. I figured I could really let it fly.
I have no idea how fast I was going when I hit the pothole a block north of the school. I must have been approaching the sound barrier. The next thing I knew, that cart and I were actually flying. Unfortunately, it ended up on top and I on the bottom.
By the time we finally came to a stop, I felt like someone who had gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel. But the worst part was yet to come – telling my parents.
My punishment was quick and to the point: Get rid of the cart and don’t leave the yard for two weeks. Not bad, but the most painful part was saying goodbye to the cart.
I guess the real tragedy was my old Iron Horse. She had bit the big one. No longer would anyone need worry about starting her – or stopping her. All that remained were a few greasy parts.
It’s been 64 years and I still remember her. Hmmm, that ís a little shocking.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.