I stepped off the little Schwinn and let it fall gracefully onto the
black top. TJ did likewise while Sammy chose to drop the kick stand on his
blue banana seat Sting Ray and dismount using the Safety Patrol preferred
School days inside Robert E. Lee Jr. High School were for the most part
pretty forgettable. Weekends behind R.E.L. Jr. H.S. stuck in your mind. They
stuck in your mind like tiny splinters.
We spent countless hours on research and development on "The
Courts." To the untrained eye, The Courts appeared to be a giant
asphalt parking lot with six dented rusty basketball goals lining the
perimeter. The surface of the pavement was about the texture of 60-grit
sandpaper. You could sand an inch off the bottom of your sneakers in a game
One year they had to replace a good portion of the sewer pipes that lay
under the outer edge of The Courts. Some misguided wood shop students dumped
two weeks worth of sawdust down the big drain behind the wood shop
Rumor had it the grits never tasted the same in cafeteria after that day.
The school board repaired the pipes and covered the ditch with concrete.
This left a long straight scar across the asphalt. It was about three feet
wide and three hundred feet long. The construction crew finished the
concrete surface smoother than anything we ever rode on. Mr. Cauldwell said
it was slicker than a pound of wet calf's liver -- stay off it.
This little corridor would be the site of some of our more memorable
On the last Saturday of each month, The Falcon Airplane and Rocket Club
would bring their squadron of fighter planes out to The Courts. These
weren't those sophisticated twenty servo remote controlled radio dispatched
interceptors you see in your local hobby shop nowadays. These were balsa
wood P-51 Mustangs and Jap Zeros flying around in a giant circle while
tethered with a long wire to their "pilot's" outstretched arm.
They took off from The Courts and soared out over the Phys Ed field. The
planes emitted an annoying high-pitched buzz and left a smoke screen
trailing behind them.
Sammy Morgan's dad was Captain of the Falcons. We would pester him about
letting us fly the P-51 every time he brought it out. One Saturday in a
moment of weakness he told TJ to stand behind him and take the handle of the
wire from his hand when he gave him the signal. Sammy's dad got the little
airplane flying and handed the controls to Tommy Joe. We looked on in awe as
Tommy Joe spun around in a circle putting the fighter through its paces.
I don't think it occurred to TJ that eventually the plane would run out
The drone over The Courts sputtered, and the air became as silent as
dinnertime on report card day. Tommy whirled around a couple of times and
then he crumpled the Mustang fighter into Sammy's brand new Schwinn Sting
Ray. This was pretty ironic, cause a few years later TJ would duplicate this
feat in Sammy's driveway by crashing Sammy's Mustang into the back of Mr.
Morgan's '63 Sting Ray.
Sam's dad told us we could keep the wrecked fighter; he seemed to loose
interest in model airplanes after that day. A few quick clicks with a pair
of Craftsman wire cutters had the fuselage extracted from the bike's spokes.
TJ had that glint in his eye; it usually led to yards of gauze bandages.
We were back at The Courts bright and early the next Saturday. Tommy had
transformed the little airplane into a '32 Ford highboy lakes roadster. He
had whittled the balsa wood into the car body. With a few gears, sprockets
and axles he had the airplane motor mounted sidewinder style and direct
drive to the rear wheels. We were huddled at the end of the long concrete
patch job. Tommy set the little car on the ground holding the rear tires off
TJ fired the motor and let it come up to speed. The little tires
immediately began to spin against his wrist, burning rubber and turning his
arm beet red. Tommy didn't spend a whole lot of time lining the car up with
the strip; he kinda just let go and grabbed his smoking wrist with his free
hand. I guess about two or three seconds passed and we were out in the tall
grass looking for the hot rod.
A few more R&D passes netted us a swollen ankle and a small brush
fire. The potential was there; it was the steering that sucked.
We came back the next weekend with two gasoline-powered roadsters and a
couple hundred feet of picture framing wire. We put a little screw eye on
the side of the cars and twisted the wire through the hole. We pulled out
about fifty feet of wire and put a stick on this end. One guy got to drive
the car while the other guy started the motor. It took about three or four
laps before we realized how important it was to stand outside the perimeter
of the circle while cranking the motor.
It was great sport to mow your pal down while he sprinted for his life.
We got about three runs on a set of tires -- the asphalt inhaled them. We
kept adding taller tires to get more wear. This also lowered the rear end
ratio numerically, improving top end dramatically. Being hit in the shin at
these speeds sounded like Mark McGuire lining a fast ball out. This was the
first time we didn't even have to be in a car to raise welts and
When we wore shorts, it looked like we were wearing long purple socks up
to our knees.
Sammy The Slide Rule Morgan, he seemed to be a few light years ahead of
us all the time. He suggested we put a screw eye into the concrete, walk out
two hundred feet, and put another one in the cement lined up perfectly with
the first. He flipped one of the roadsters over and screwed two small screw
eyes one behind the other in the belly pan. Sammy threaded the picture
framing wire through the bottom of the car's eyes and tied each end to the
ones sticking up out of the concrete.
TJ and I looked at each other and acknowledged we were in the presence of
The little car sped along the wire straight as an arrow; we incorporated
a catcher's mitt as a primitive but effective braking device. As the car
came whistling towards the screw eye on the far end you stuck the mitt down
and caught the racer.
Crowds would come out each weekend to see us race down the concrete drag
strip. In an effort to go even faster, we began coating the wire with bee's
wax. Some call it pushing the envelope; others say its taking it to the
limit. Most agree it's a bad idea.
Soon we were running the cars on alcohol and had them geared to break a
hundred miles per hour. Not 1/12-scale miles per hour... a hundred miles
per hour like your family SUV can barely do down a long hill! We were on
a power trip now. We put in bigger and bigger motors, .60s I think they
were. We coated the wire with STP, pulled every inch of slack out of it.
Then it happened.
The wire shot back into our faces like a giant Spaghetti strand. The car
seemed to live for this moment! Free at last, free at last! We saw it shoot
up into the air and disappear through the roof vent on the cafeteria.
Geez! It seemed like the fire trucks were there before the alarms went
gonzo (copyright 1999