How This Slot Car Thing Started With My Brother And I
|Race car drivers were our boyhood heroes of speed. Tony Brown - mgbbrown|
Alex Haley I am not...
Nor is this about Kunte Kinte either. And Raleigh is not Gambia for that matter and this is not Kansas, Dorothy. Just to clear the air a bit if there is any confusion in my title choice. To have an interpretation of the past has absolutely nothing to do with what actually happened, and that is were the oral tradition that Alex Haley so vividly portrayed fits into this slot car thing in the first place. Like Alex Haley, we have to go back... man, I mean w-aaa-y back to the electric train thing. For guys who were around during the golden age of steam, there was nothing more elegant than a big Pennsie Railroad 2-10-4 steamer hauling coal and iron ore along the Susquehanna to the foundries in Pittsburgh. It stood for the strength of America and just what could be accomplished with brow sweat. An electric train brought that into every boys reach, and he could dream the dream of being a conductor or engineer.
But Sputnik changed all that...
As we were brought into the technologic race into space, a transition that enveloped us with the need for speed. That O-gauge train just did not circle the tree fast enough. Detroit echoed the race with fins and flash that oozed the dash. If a boy could not drive a fast car at his tender age he could at least drive SOMETHING fast, as EVERYTHING was moving FAST then. The bigger the V-8, the better, as it promised more pin your fanny to the seat speed if you were no longer a mere boy and old enough to drive. Astronauts and saber jet pilots and race car drivers were our boyhood heroes of speed, so this was our chance to get a piece of the action. So if we could not BE in California with real live hot rods or Cobras, or Cape Canaveral for a real live rocket launch, and see Wally and Glen all suited up, we could still whistle Hey Little Cobra and push the HO controller plunger to the metal. Ford early-on teamed up with Aurora to sponsor shop-to-region-to-national level competitions landing the eventual regional winners to a race night at Johnnie Carsons. Even Ed Sullivan, Dan Gurney and Sir Stirling Moss kicked-in to add some zing to the festivities. Like a chicken in every pot, every boy wanted to race Aurora HO scale Thunderjets.
We saw our first slot cars in...
The display case at Jim Colliers North Hills Hobby Shop in the spring of 1966. Jim was primarily an HO train man, but surrendered early on to the popularity of slot cars as it took boyhood and fatherhood by storm across America. Later on in life our paths would again cross in the British car world, as Jim was nationally recognized as a restorer of T-series MGs from the late 1940s and 1950s. Jim is still alive but suffers daily vision problems, and I often wonder if he knows of the legacy he gave to so many boys and their dads in the area around Raleigh. It would be of comfort to him I think.
Before that blessed event...
That is, SEEING and becoming consumed together with the I MUST HAVE IT AND WE NEED IT TO CONTINUE ON THIS EARTH all consuming fire that ten year olds have occasionally from time to time, my twin and I became involved in Scouting. A perk of joining was of course a subscription to BOYS LIFE, which featured among the ads for GRIT newspapers, BF Goodrich bicycle tires, various flavors of chewing gum and Daisey BB guns, strategically placed ads for go-carts (we already knew the answer was NO for that one and it was a do not ask us again NO) and Aurora slot car sets. I mean with Stirling Moss and Dan the Man Gurney. In our minds this was a possibility for SPEED, and certainly COOL which was duly confirmed at Jims counter the next time our mom needed something like knitting yarn or dress patterns she could get only at North Hills near the hobby shop. Our consummation kept burning with each visit to Jims counter, and rekindled with each subscription of BOYS LIFE. The Parental PRESSURE exerted by two 10 year olds was enough to crack the Siegfried Line. My gnawing suspicion is that they secretly rued the day that the November issue landed in our mailbox. On page 49 was Glenn Wagners GRAND PRIX RACEWAY, described as hair–raising mountain road racing at its best. We had a month until Christmas. We both knew that Santa and his elves needed to fully understand that they in no uncertain terms must come up with 59 sections of track for the layout as well as a transformer, controllers, and slot cars. Our parents were of course used to convey the naughty and nice summations of our past years behaviors and add a sense of urgency to the matter at hand as they were Santas liaison dont you know.
The DAY OF OUR BLESSED SAVIORS BIRTH...
I am ashamed to report, never even remotely assumed its rightful place nor had a snowballs chance as it was THE DAY THE SLOT CARS CAME. Undoubtedly the best Christmas ever recorded save the birth of our Lord. How Santa got that full sheet of interior grade plywood down our chimney will remain one of mans unsolved mysteries. The area around the Christmas tree looked like an Aurora track assembly line, as all 59 pieces were stacked in like sections around the base. I nabbed a green GTO and my brother got a tan Porsche 906 to start out with. Not too shabby now, as Aurora did not make a boatload of olive Ferrari GTOs. And as I remember it, nothing was broken, which is a miracle considering we were on it like white on rice.
The plan all along was to...
Build up Glenns layout pretty much as he illustrated it in BOYS LIFE, but our basement was unfinished except for a Brunswick pool table of my dads in a far corner. We became wickedly good at playing pool, but that is another story altogether. While the GRAND PRIX table was constructed, my brother and I built a layout on a long carpet remnant consisting of the longest straight we could produce out of those 59 sections and looping back on itself with the curved track. It was quite a test, as we were not all that skilled with using Auroras steering wheel controllers, and soon made a quick transition to the thumb plunger Speed Controller, which looked like a heat sink from George Jetsons tool box. By that time Jim had gotten in some more cars and Pit Kits at his hobby shop, so our collection of cars grew so that each of us filled a tan Pit Kit. A tan Hot Rod was my favorite of the bunch followed by an olive Chaparral, which we always thought odd because the tiny Jim Hall that drove it like mad always had no helmet.
With the acquisition of cars came...
The increased NEED FOR SPEED, so we purchased several Hop-Up Kits, slapping on roundels and monikers like THE PHANTOM, OL SLIPPERY, BANDITO and things like DEAD END and this really strange and oblique black and white tennis shoe looking decal whose true meaning remains a mystery to this day. Inside the Hop-Up Kit was a white crown gear, and it went on my Chaparral because it was a slug anyway. The 12 tooth pinion and its corresponding crown gear found their way onto my white Bill Thomas Cheetah, and foam slicks were added to the Hot Rod. Nothing was put into the olive GTO because in warmed up to speed after ten laps or so and we just did not want to mess with it. Kinda like keeping that Ferrari original in the real world. Aurora published a small blue Hop-Up Hints booklet with the kit, and this offered more ways to eventually butcher a perfectly good body in the attempt to do it their way. A white Mako Shark, a white Willys, and a green Dodge Charger would eventually fall to the knife. I only had the Charger for a week or two before its death, and the carcass did survive all of these years.
Jim could not get the exact materials...
To make the track scenery, so we settled for a paper mache` version called Permacal. Water was added to paper pulverized to a powder, and the resulting slop was padded over window screen wire to become a rock outcropping or mountain. The Grand Prix Raceway consisted of the various track sections winding in and upward to form several levels, with the uppermost level crossing a large viaduct between two mountainous outcroppings with the track circling and switch backing around to the table level. A spiral hill climb, similar to Auroras Cobra Hill Climb, started the track back again towards heaven. The whole thing was spectacular and quite challenging to us boys, with the Permacal ending up as I remember being gentle to our car bodies, something that was put to the test frequently. Its a pure shame we have no pictures of some of our best childhood memories.
Well into High School...
The Grand Prix Raceway provided years of clean and relatively simple fun, serving to unite a neighborhood and two brothers in their mutual love of Slot cars. As twins, my brother and I signed with the Armed Forces Selective Service together, and were the first twins to register at the same time and made the paper even. Bittersweet, because our random number was both 23 since we had the same birth day, and a 1A designation ensured a trip to Vietnam. We had by that time discovered perfume and what goes with that smell, and I also found the opposite smell of gasoline still attractive too. Nixon bombed Hiaphong Harbor again in 1973, and our draft status changed to 1H. As history would reveal, America retreated hastily from Vietnam, and we too hastily packed it all up and headed to college. To remember how it was, I just open the Pit Kit and smell that Red Racing Oil, and all those memories come piling back. Now that is what we call ROOTS.
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|Article & Images Copyright 2008 MrConey.com | SlotCarDigest.com August 25, 2008|