Tommy Joe Invents the Caboggan
By Ralph "Gonzo" Crosby
Sammy tossed me an ice cold RC and plopped down beside me.
TJ was sprawled on the floor in front of us. We were watching the Winter Olympics on Wide World of Sports. Being raised in South Florida we didn't see a lot of hockey or ice skating out on Snyder's rock pit. Tommy Joe seemed fascinated with the bobsled teams. We watched as they careened down the icy course at insane speeds. "Hot dang boys, that tears it -- we gotta try sleddin'!" The fact that it hadn't snowed in Ft Lauderdale in recorded history didn't seem to dampen Tommy's spirits any.
Sammy, TJ, Crazy Norman, and I had raced against each other on bikes, skateboards, soap box derby cars, and go karts plenty of times. We spent lots of Saturdays running over each other's fingers and cracking our skulls open on the blacktop.
Tommy said he was gonna build a racer we could all ride in together like the toboggan teams.
The thought of all of us breaking our necks in one vehicle instead of four seemed a very thrifty idea.
The next few nights were spent in top secret brainstorming sessions in the back of Mr. Cauldwell's cabinet shop.
Tommy sketched out design after design. We built one scale model racer after the other. Tommy handed me his latest offering. At first, I thought it was a stretch limo soap box derby car. I could feel the belly laugh rising into my throat as I looked at the drawing. Then I pictured TJ Sammy and I actually riding in the contraption and the belly laugh evaporated into nausea.
Saturday morning we gathered at Tommy's house and brought everything we thought we could whip into a three seater race machine.
We had piled a broken wheelbarrow, a rusty fertilizer spreader, a couple shopping carts some worn out soap box derby cars and a few other odds and ends into a heap in the middle of the Cauldwell's driveway.
Being crack chassis fabricators and having a keen eye for coolness, we began assembling one of the first multi seater coffins ever to fly the infamous Cauldwell 33s.
It took about an hour of looking over the pile of junk bolted together on the driveway to realize we needed help. A quick bike ride to the edge of town followed.
We walked up to the door of the little shack sitting in front of the county landfill. TJ was right beside me and he shouted through the window "Hey Mister Darcy! It's us; open up!"
The door creaked open and Mr. Darcy poked his head out.
"What the dickens you boys cooking up now, Gonzo?" He smiled and spat about a quart of what looked like motor oil onto the ground.
Tommy explained as best he could that we were right in the middle of building another world beater, this one being a three seater.
Mr. Darcy wiped his mouth off on the back of his sleeve and said," Well, let's go see what we can find." We rummaged through the acres of junk all the way to the top of the land fill.
We found a few big wheels tires and a few lawn mower wheels that showed promise but nothing we could really use as the body or cockpit.
Sure, TJ could saw up a few scraps of wood in his father's shop and produce something better looking than anything they had down at Ethan Allen's, but we wanted something prefab this time.
Mr. Darcy poured a cold Nehi Strawberry soda down his throat in one swallow and said, "I think I got something you boys could use behind the shack."
Behind the shack was a place only the fool hardy would venture. We peeked behind the creaky old building and looked at what we thought was a complex rope trap. Closer inspection revealed it to be the biggest spider web we had ever seen!
I remembered I was supposed to mow the lawn about three weeks ago. I mentioned to Tommy Joe that I guess I'd better go ahead home and do it. TJ grabbed me by the ankle before I could really catch traction with my worn out sneaks. "No sweat, Gonz, it's only a spider," he assured me.
Then we saw a scorpion about the size of a Maine lobster glaring at us. A couple of rats as big as bull dogs gave the scorpion a wide berth and scurried into the darkness.
Looking back, I think the old shack might have been the site of the original Jurassic Park.
We eased along the back of the shack to a mildew covered tarp laying over something that must have been important a few decades ago.
We rolled the tarp back and stared at the scum encrusted fifteen foot fiberglass canoe.
The canoe was in pretty good shape except for a foot long gash smack dab in the middle of the bottom. We both looked at each other expecting to see that light bulb you see in the cartoons flashing above our heads.
We backtracked over to Sammy's house and told him of our incredible luck. We peddled over to Crazy Norman's and he joined us for the ride back to the landfill.
Portaging the canoe out of the landfill to the road was easy compared to getting it across town on bikes in rush hour traffic. Our first attempt at carrying it on the bikes was short lived. We lined the bikes up single file and lifted the canoe over our heads upside down. We tried to pedal off together in a straight line with the canoe draped over our heads. We kinda resembled a giant armadillo wearing bike tire roller skates. Everything was going pretty good considering none of us could see out from under the inverted hull. A few loud horn blasts and a close call with a bus convinced us that one of us should be able to see where we were going.
We turned the canoe right side up and Tommy and Sammy got on each side by the bow. Norman and I did the same by the stern. Somehow we carried and dragged the old canoe back to TJ's house.
There were two schools of thought on how the canoe would best serve our needs. TJ and Crazy Norman thought it would not only look very aerodynamic, but extremely cool to turn it upside down and sit under it on a rolling chassis. Sammy "The Slide Rule" Morgan said it would be more practical to set it right side up and sit in it like it was intended to be used.
After an hour of listening to Sammy filibuster for his design, we gave in.
Daylight was wasting and we began the task of getting wheels and tires, steering and brakes, seats and braces attached to the hull.
There was a big pressure treated four by four inch timber sitting in the back of the cabinet shop.
We sawed it to length and squeezed about a dozen tubes of Mister Cauldwell's Liquid Nails over the bottom of it.
We grabbed hold of the timber and gently dropped it into the inside bottom of the canoe.
Half of the Liquid Nail goop oozed on our clothes, turning our shirts and jeans into instant one piece jumpsuits.
Tommy washed the adhesive off his hands with paint thinner and a steel brush. This brought a nice reddish glow to the palms of his hands.
Tommy bored a one inch hole through the four by four and the bottom of the canoe. He walked to the bow and repeated the process. Sammy dropped stainless steel bolts through the holes.
TJ planed a couple two byes down and lined them up cross ways where the holes in the boat were. We attached the axles to the two by fours that were attached to the four by four, well you get the idea. We bolted four brand new Schwinn Stingray wheels to the axles.
This meant sacrificing the wheels and tires off two of our bikes.
We settled on the name Caboggan for the boat-car and stenciled it on the side along with the notorious double threes.
Sammy's ingenious all wheel steering would be the envy of heavy equipment manufacturers everywhere and they were quick to copy us.
We pop riveted a third seat into the middle of the canoe.
Tommy got in and was standing in the bow. Sammy was sitting in the middle seat and I was sitting in the stern.
Crazy Norman snapped a photo of us in the boat and it looked just like the one of George Washington crossing the Delaware.
We pushed the Caboggan down the street in front of TJ's house and jumped in. We noticed two things right away. The first thing we noticed was the center of gravity was above our heads.
The second thing we noticed was all our blood was the same shade of red.
A few yards of bandages had us back on our feet in the research and development section of Tommy Joe's driveway.
"She's way to high I reckon, huh Sammy?" Tommy said. Sammy was deep in thought or just ignoring Tommy. I noticed the neat tourniquet Sammy had fashioned from a bike tube and twisted around his elbow.
"We gotta drop the wheels and lower the seats TJ," Sammy replied.
We unbolted the bike wheels and installed double rows of lawn mower wheels at each corner.
Sammy drilled out the rivets in the seats and we dropped them on top of the four by four in the bottom.
Sitting in the Caboggan now gave us that suave Latino low rider look.
We made a few more passes down the street . The tiny lawn mower tires made steering in straight line nearly impossible. Turning with them was even harder.
Using Debbie Stillwell's lawn as the shut down area, we burrowed to a stop.
Tommy could see his crew about to abandon ship... err canoe.
We practiced more and more 'til we were ten percent confident we could survive a full pass down the side of the interstate overpass.
We picked the highest steepest overpass on the brand new section of I 95 running through Ft. Lauderdale.
It was steep enough and long enough but it had one drawback. The bottom of it was underwater! Under the New River as a matter of fact. We decided that if we stretched an old volleyball net across the bottom right before the water we could ease to a halt.
We could see the boat builders across the river working on the yachts at Brenner, Marine.
They were standing in little inflatable boats touching up the paint on the boats.
We felt a little kinship with them being builders of the worlds first Caboggan and all.
We figured we had better tow the Caboggan down to the over pass just before sun up on Saturday.
There would be less traffic and most of the kids from school wouldn't be around laughing and pointing at us.
We pushed the car-boat to the top of the overpass and caught our breath as the sun came up out of the Atlantic Ocean.
Norman went down to check the volleyball net and came huffing and puffing back up the hill.
"Hey TJ you know how you stretched the net right at the waters edge?" Norman looked even more agitated than normal, which was scary enough.
Tommy "Said yea what about it Norm?" "Well the water is about fifty feet farther away now!!" Norm shouted. Sammy looked at me and said "low tide."
This meant the Caboggan would hit the net fifty feet before it touched the water,.
Tommy asked if we wanted to hold off till another day when the tide was right.
We had never aborted a run in our brief racing career.
"What's the worse that could happen" was a phrase that was banned from our vocabulary.
Tommy got in the bow Sammy slid down in the middle and I took the stern.
There was a tiny steering wheel sticking up in each end of the Caboggan. Tommy grabbed the wheel tight and I did the same. Crazy Norman got his camera ready and headed down to the bottom. He wanted to get a full speed action shot as we barreled by.
Tommy raised his right hand and I pulled the wheel chock out from under the little tiny tires.
We skated over the edge and down the concrete mountain.
The Caboggan fish tailed to the side and I could see TJ sitting next to me rather than in front.
I pulled on the little steering wheel and we did a nice hundred mile per hour spin, Now Tommy was back in front of me , but we were both facing back up the hill! I gave another tug on the wheel and we came twisting around like one of those swirling tea cup rides. I glanced over at Sammy and the lyrics to Whiter Shade of Pale came to mind
We were really cookin' now and everything was a blur, then I realized my shirt had blown up over my face. I ripped it away in one fierce motion and my liquid nailed jeans came off with it.
Sammy raised an eyebrow and said "Are those really Spiderman briefs, Gonz?"
I didn't have time for idle chit chat. I was busy spinning the steering wheel in a hopeless attempt to straighten us out. We hit the bottom and shot through the volleyball net like it was toilet paper. We hit the water and the wheels and axles ripped off, We were churning through the water like a torpedo!
Some things become etched in your mind forever. The look on the faces of the two men in the little inflatable boat is a pretty good example. I'd say we hit the little life boat at about seventy miles per hour. It sure made a racket as it exploded sending the painters about twenty feet in the air!!
The four by four in the bottom of the Caboggan was about the size of a good battering ram.
I remember seeing the guy on the bow of the yacht releasing the big anchor and jumping over board. The anchor smashed through the bow of the Caboggan about two inches before we rammed the side of the million dollar yacht.
The Caboggan flipped up like a catapult sending Sammy and me into the stratosphere.
I opened my eyes for a second and took a look around. Gee I could see my house from up here!!
I held my breath and got ready to hit the water below. The only trouble was, the water below was a puddle the anchor had splashed up on the yacht's deck. Not to worry. I smashed into the side of the boat's smokestack instead! I stuck against the steel tube and slowly slid down.
Sam was laying on the deck when I finally fell down.
He looked over at me and said, "Ya know for a second there you DID look like Spider man!"
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