Apr 152015

When I was a child I had a wild friend that I’ll call “R.” I’ve written about him before, and he was the subject of many of my wild and dangerous childhood adventures. This adventure started out prosaically, with a shopping cart.

R told me that he knew of an abandoned shopping cart, stashed under a building near the Clark Fork River in Missoula. This would have been the early 70’s, when stolen shopping carts were not as prevalent in the world as they are today. Back then I never saw a homeless person with a shopping cart. R suggested that we could transform this ordinary shopping cart into a go-cart. This sounded like fun to me, and we set about to do it.

Arriving at the building I discovered that R was speaking the truth; there was indeed an abandoned shopping cart under a building which I believe was used for cutting grave stones. We used wrenches to disconnect the wire basket from the underlying frame and wheels. We left the basket there and took the frame back to R’s house. Seen from the side, the shape of the frame was a sort of “J” shape, with the “J” laying on its side. From the rear, there was a gap between the two rear wheels. About 12″ above this gap was a cross-bar, which formed the curved part of the “J” shape. I could see the legitimate fun this vehicle could have, but it was clear that a board needed to go between the gap between the two rear wheels. We found a board, and I recall it was either bolted down or in some way firmly attached. Not surprisingly, there was no adult supervision during this process…

From here things began to get weird and dangerous. I imagined that one should ride this go-cart by kneeling on the board while holding on to the crossbar. R suggested that one ~sit~ on the board, and use the crossbar as a “roll bar.” We quickly tired of simply pushing each other along, and decided to take it to the next level. We enlisted the help of our friends John and Chris. We headed for Mt. Sentinel which as you can see by the photo on the Wikipedia page is largely grass covered. Of all all four of us, R was the only one of us crazy enough to actually try riding the go-cart down the hillside. R insisted on sitting on the wooden plank, which made “bailing out” virtually impossible. We tried launching R down the hillside several times, but each time the clumps of grass which covered the hillside stopped his progress. The wheels of a shopping cart are small, and easily stopped, sort of like how a small pebble can stop a skateboard wheel. On the final attempt R gained escape velocity, and began to roll down the hillside on his own. Soon enough the clumps of grass plus his “roll bar” proved his undoing and he began to lose control, first in great bumps, then by CARTWHEELING down the mountain side. Eventually his cartwheeling stopped, but he was still sliding down the mountain, face down. We ran down after him as fast as we could, but we couldn’t catch him. He managed to stop just a few feet before a small cliff.

Thankfully R was more or less unhurt; no broken bones or bleeding that I remember. Needless to say, that was the last time I remember using the go-cart. I don’t have kids, so I don’t know how kids use their free time these days, but I suspect this sort of thing doesn’t happen too much during modern supervised “play dates.”

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