The first box cart I saw was a red and blue, eye-catching beauty being pulled by a kid in the next neighborhood. Its rear wheels were larger than those in front, and it had a round steering wheel. I asked him where he got it. “I made it, myself.”
“You did?” I walked home thinking about nothing else. I turned my corner, looked across busy Atwells Avenue to Armington Avenue, a magnificent hill, and thought, “I can make my own box cart, and that’s where I’ll ride.” I needed a box, wheels, nails, a hammer, some stray boards and a rope. Easy. I asked Dan to help.
The rope was easily available. We cut an extra piece hanging from the outside clothesline. The wooden box was also easy. I went to my uncle’s market and got a crate that read “Delicious Apples”. Perfect; a Delicious Apple box cart. In our cellars we found boards for the center, rear and front wheels. The wheels were tougher to find, but after a long search, I spotted a baby carriage, complete with wheels and axles, in the dump. We tumbled down the hill to check it. Perfect.
“Let’s use these.”
“How do we get them off?”
“With a hammer and maybe a screwdriver. Shouldn’t be that tough.” Wrong. The first part, getting the little hub caps off the wheels, was easy. They peeled off with the screwdriver. But the wheels were bolted to the axles. “Why did they have to make them so tough?” Dan asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe so it would be safe for the babies.” After an afternoon of hammering, twisting, banging, flipping the carriage and cursing, we did it; we secured the wheels and axles. Dan mopped the sweat from his face. I wiped the side of my face and my lip with my sleeve. We could have used a Nehi or a Coke. Though the wheels seemed small and were bent from being ripped off the carriage, they were good enough. Exhausted at day’s end, we slid the stuff under Dan’s porch, and I shuffled home.
The next day, I took Grandpa’s hammer and a lot of nails, and we began to build. We nailed the “Delicious Apple” crate to the center board. We nailed the axles and wheels to the under sides of the front and rear cross boards, securing the axles by bending the nails, two on each side, front and rear, over each axle. The axles were secure. We nailed the cross boards top and bottom to the center board, giving no thought to how the front wheels might turn. We secured the boards with lots of nails. With no idea of how to attach a round steering wheel, instead we nailed the rope to each end of the front board. “Will those wheels stay on?” Dan’s older brother asked as he was hurrying to work.
“What?’ He mentioned something about U-bolts around the axles. I looked at Dan. “What the heck is he talking about?”
“And how are you going to turn the thing?’
“With the rope.”
“Uh, yeah, sure. Sure. Right.” He ran off. Good thing. What a pain! We finished our work by the end of the second day and although exhausted, we were eager to get to the top of Armington Avenue to test our box cart, even before we painted it. We should have waited until the next day. Before we pulled it to the top, we had a root beer at the corner variety store. The heat rippled off the streets. The tar smelled of burnt meat. The rubber on the bottom of my Keds smelled of the US Rubber Plant in the valley below. But, pulling the beauty, we made it to the top of the hill and looked down. “Man, that’s a long way down!”
“Yeah, but we made it.”
“Where do I go?” asked Dan.
“You jump up and stand on the back board after you give me a shove. I’ll sit in the box.” I was a lot smaller than Dan and could scrunch my knees to my chest. I squeezed into the apple box, huddled, and held the ends of the rope high in the air. Dan groaned, shoved and jumped on. Off we went. I wondered how we would stop; thinking the best way would be to get my feet out of the box to use my heels. Hmmm, that might add to the smell of rubber. I worried, but not too much, as I overlooked the traffic below.
We were off, but in a second we veered to the right. I pulled hard left on the rope to no avail. We headed toward the curb. “It won’t steer! It’s stuck!” Before we crashed, I heard a frightening noises — scratch, creak, crack, grind, groan, some of these noises coming from us. The wood splintered and shredded from the nails, the wheels wobbled, turned to their outer sides like a dancer doing a split, and then the worst; everything came off…wheels, axles, crate and us. Dan fell to one side, I to the other. The apple crate disintegrated. “The wheels are off, and we haven’t even started!”
“I don’t know. Too much weight? Wheels too small. Maybe we needed those U things your brother said. And the front board wouldn’t turn when I pulled.”
“Now what do we do? We have to drag this thing all the way home.” Though the sun was lower in the sky, the streets were still rippling. We looked around. No one saw us. Good thing. “Let’s go.” We dragged the heap but not before we had another drink, this time a root beer, at the Variety Store. The owner stared at us for a moment, then turned away. I gulped mine, Dan gulped his. Dad was standing in the driveway as we hauled the wood and wheels home. The wheels were barely hanging, the box and boards in pieces, but the rope still attached.
“Our box cart.”
“What happened?” We looked at the cart and then down at the sidewalk. My tee shirt was stuck to my chest and back. My feet were burning. Dan rocked from side to side.
Dad laughed. “It’s always a good idea to ask for help. You need U bolts to hold the axles on. And not nails to boards but a bolt with a nut so you can turn it. And the wheels are too small. Where did they come from? And where did you ride it? And how were you going to stop?” He paused. Uh, oh.
“Uhhh, Armington Avenue. With my feet.” Dad’s frown meant trouble.
“Armington Avenue? With all that traffic below? With your feet? You’re wearing sneakers! Are you guys nuts? It’s a good thing the wheels came off! And whose tools did you use? Get upstairs!” I went up. Dan went home. I fell asleep right after supper, but not before thinking that we could have had the best and fastest box cart in the neighborhood.
We never did try again.