|Project by Mark A. DeCou||posted 542 days ago||2626 views||0 times favorited||17 comments|
This posting is for showing some of the pinewood derby cars we’ve built the past year, talking some about last night’s racing, and sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
It’s been awhile since I’ve typed much, just have other things to do. If you aren’t a fan of my diatribes, I’m sorry, I included photos so you could quickly peruse them….although you’ll miss the point of all of this if you just look at the photos. Isn’t life like that?
Last night was a long awaited night, one we’ve been planning for….well, since the minute last year’s races ended.
So, a year of effort, research, drawing plans, thinking and contemplating, some hard work, practicing, studying other people’s blogs and youtube videos, reading books, dusting off my engineering education, some more hard work, quality tiime and talk with my kids, and a bit of racing luck. More on that “Luck” in a bit….
Before that.....A year ago my son and I did a pinewood derby car together. I enjoyed it as much as he did, maybe more, passing on the tradition to him. I posted that story a year ago, discussing the 4th place finish. My son was pretty disappointed, demonstrating that again last week when he pulled his BFRO car out of the glass display case in the shop, and said to it, “You bad BFRO car, you let me down last year.”
Even though he was disappointed with 4th place, I was thrilled to have large amounts of measurable time working together in the shop, getting along better, and feeling like we did something as a team. Not everything can be measured in trophies in this world, but many things are more important. You know what I mean, teaching kids things like knowing when to hold ‘em, and knowing when to fold ‘em, and knowing when to walk away, and knowing when to run (You’re going to hate me that you can’t get that old song out of your head now!).
A year ago, our relationship hadn’t been going so well, he was frustrated because he seemed to be in trouble all of the time, and I was equally frustrated because he seemed to be in trouble all of the time. He has a good heart, he just gets easily distracted, and his sudden impulses are not always thought out real well, and have unexpected consequences. During that year, he quit coming into the shop after the school bus dropped him off, and he started going into the house to avoid me. I noticed it quickly, and it had me concerned, and nothing I was saying seemed to be helping. So, seeing the pattern and fearing it’s implications, I started praying for help.
If when you get finished with this long diatribe, you find that you just can’t get enough of “me”, you can read more of the back-story by following this link to last year's Pinewood Derby Car lesson summary
The idea of joining Scouts together sounded like a good idea, but I had a hard time getting over what seemed to be constantly in the News about all of that “bad stuff” (not down playing that at all), you hear about a few bad “scout leaders”.
And, I realized that dropping my kid off at scouts while I go and do something else is what other people may call a good time, but I decided that both my kid and I together needed the “Scout’s Experience”. So, I dedicated myself to stopping work short two days a month and driving into town to attend the scout meetings with him after school.
But, I was pretty cautious about picking a Scout a group to join, and decided that what was most important was picking a group based on the obvious quality of the leadership. I found that group, and we joined up. After working with “Troy” (the Leader) for the past 15 months, he has proven to be even more “quality” than I had imagined, and I’ve learned a lot about being a dad, patience with kids, all from just observing him. SO, good for me also, and for Troy leading us all.
At first it was hard, counting the hours I was missing in the shop, and worrying over how we’d make the bills this month, or that month, or what I’d miss out on by not working more. As I drove, I’d count the gas cost, forty miles round trip in an antique pick up truck ain’t cheap you know. But, Finally, after a few weeks I decided to embrace my decision, and leave the results up to God. And, I’m glad I did that.
Also, I decided that I was going to have to stop worrying about “me” so much and stop working in the shop so much, and to stop pushing the kids out of the shop so often, just so that I could get more work done…alone
I could make the argument that it’s not all that selfish to run a one-man business and worry over how to provide for my family. But I think I’ve been worrying enough, and I need to do something else at times. The stakes are high with kids, and the years are short. Know what I mean? (And, after 16 years of going “undiscovered” as an artisan, I’m starting to embrace the idea that it just isn’t going to happen for me, and maybe I need to find something else to hope for. I’m not fully “there” yet, but it’s starting to pile up).
Both the scouting and my refocus on more important goals has been rewarded with safe, important, quality time with both of my kids. And the pay off has been that my son and I aren’t nearly as frustrated with each other, although he still gets in trouble from time to time, but nothing major yet. So, we’ve had a good year, refocused on the “most” important things, and I’m still in business with my business, God has been good to us.
So, for this year’s Pinewood Derby event, I had to make a decision, whether to let my kids build their own cars, or to work with them on the project. There are two strong and opinionated “camps” on that decision point, and either they are diametrically or diabolically opposed, not sure which.
The goal for the kids of course is winning, while the goal for me is to pass on the traditions, the hand skills, design skills, and just simply spend time together doing something other than watching them play a sport from the car seat, or a bench. In the process of working together on a car, they would understand aspects of craft work, engineering, and diligent planning that they would not learn on their own as quickly.
You don’t do Sports? (OMGosh)
We don’t “do” sports, and that is a long and controversial story that I don’t want to get into here, and I don’t care what you do with your kids (well really I do care, but I don’t want to argue with you).
We also make it a point “not” to do a lot of running and going and spending time on various low-priority things. I realize that it’s not for everyone, I’m not trying to preach, just explain the back-story to all of this car racing stuff. Back twelve years ago, we chose a home that is quiet and isolated in the Country, and so it is really inconvenient and time consuming to drive into town for all of the activities that town’s people find themselves doing since it’s all so easily available.
In short, my thoughts have been to quiet life down by being at home more, and focus as much as possible on the important things, and doing our best on those things, instead of being average at a lot of things. The side benefit is that we don’t spend near as much money on gas, and the whole family doesn’t feel so worn out on activities. So, we don’t do sports, but I won’t argue with you if you do. We also DON’T DO video games, none of us, but that’s too much off topic to go over that one here, and I don’t need to stir up that one too much…..now.
Ok, so I had to decide between letting the kids do their own cars without help, or to work along with them. They were concerned about trophies, while I was concerned about teaching them something other than winning trophies and just spending time together….at home.
I opted to work with them together, individually, so they would not argue or compete for my attention, and I could talk with them individually, alone. I realize that alone time with a kid is pretty hard for all us, but that was one of my goals this year for the project. Two other events happened this year, where it became painfully obvious to me that just sending my kids off to the government’s school for indoctrination and hoping for the best, might leave a few things out along the way, that are quite important to me.
God is Not Allowed in Here!
The first event that caused me to really question my kid’s education, and my lack of involvement in that, was when my daughter told me awhile back that she was told by a teacher that she could not talk about God any more in school, that it was against the rules. This is a small town, family-oriented culture of Country folks in the Bible Belt, and God is not allowed there at our little school? What’s it like in a Big Blue State School? No, don’t tell me, I have enough to worry about.
When my daughter told me that, I flushed with anger, and responded to my daughter, ”But you have the Constitutional Right in the First Amendment to talk about anything you want to talk about, anywhere you are in this Country, you tell that teacher to call me…......”
My daughter just looked at me like I was crazy, and said, ”what’s the first amendment?” I realized by the look on her face that I was failing her in the area of education. The second event was a little different but told me a similar message with my son. For crying out loud, I have an ancestor who offered up his Life, Fortune, and Sacred Honor by signing the Declaration of Independence, and then not much more than 200 years later, my own kids don’t know how the First Amendment protects them? Ugh, what a failure I am. You know that the 2nd Amendment is getting all of the news right now, but without the 1st one, does it matter about the 2nd? And without the 2nd one, can you really protect the 1st one? You know that 2nd one isn’t about the right to hunt animals? And on top of that, if someone doesn’t start teaching these kids to have a “heart” all of us older folks are going to regret dumping all of this debt on these kids at the same time we are hoping they’ll keep us alive…. Just thinking out loud.
Now, I think the issue here with the “school rules” most likely has more to do with one teacher that doesn’t understand the rules, and just takes a safe route to avoid trouble. It’s happening all over the country like that, and even in churches where pastors misunderstand the rules on charitable corporations and fearing the loss of their tax exempt status wrongly fear to tread on ground they think might get them in trouble, despite that their congregants might need certain teachings. So, at this point, I’m asking my daughter to stand on her own protected rights, and see what develops, and step in and help with the situation as needed, which so far, hasn’t been needed.
This incident made me realize that I hadn’t been spending time making sure my kids understood the Founding Fathers, and our protected Rights given by God….. and that leads to realizing the implications of where this shift in cultural focus leads us all in the end. Some have been working toward that end, while I’ve been sleeping and worrying over paying bills. I guess I thought the kids would pick up that stuff at school. So, even though the kids don’t realize it now, I realize that my kids will someday wish I had done a better job teaching that, and very possibly a lot of kids will wish someone had done a better job teaching that.
Ok, so I’m off on this 1st Amendment rabbit-trail during a Pinewood Derby story, simply to highlight just another reason that I felt it was important to have alone time with each kid, where we could go to the shop, do a project, and talk about things they need to understand about this world, and it all has nothing to do with how to throw a ball, or catch a pass, or even race a little wooden car.
Oh Dad, when can we start cutting the wood?
We started with talking through the design aspects of what makes a gravity powered car fast down an incline. And, what things hinder that speed, friction, wind resistance, alignment, etc. That engineering understanding helped them wade through all of the book photos of other people’s cars, and come up with a design that would be both fast, and would look cool. Last year, they were both into Theme Cars, funny looking things that would make kids laugh, but not go fast down a gravity powered track. This year, starting out with the engineering understanding, they focused quickly on the speed points of their design.
I made them draw out three views of the car they envisioned, using a little orthographic understanding in the process, and we drew out the plans then on their block of wood. Some of it they cut with a hand saw, other parts I cut with a bandsaw. I don’t trust them yet on finger eating power tools, that will come in time, but later when their focus ability and hand skills have matured. We moved on through sanding, and painting.
They both had interesting paint schemes they wanted to achieve. They used acrylic paints and brushes and masking tape, and I was able to show them how to think backwards to determine how to start the painting process and build up to the final appearance they wanted. After the painting, we then smoothed the finish with several dozen coats of clear Gloss lacquer that I sprayed for them. They did the dusting of the glitter spray by themselves.
Rachel decided to match the pink camo that is on her new compound bow, and Riley wanted KSU Wildcat colors, with a bright yellow stripe down the middle and flames on the front. I used that as an opportunity with both kids, to teach about color mixing, and matching under different light, etc. Then they wanted the hole drilling on the wheel sidewalls they saw in a book last year, so we did that with a little fixture I built for the job. We scraped wheels, and treaded the wheels, and polished the wheels, and polished the nails, and packed in graphite. All of it with the combined goal of making them fast, and working together alone while we talked about important things.
The Racing Kit Box…...
Last November I went to a family lumberyard auction back in my home town, a place my dad worked for many years, a place that I had fond memories of from my visiting there while growing up. I also counted inventory in the cold dark back rooms and attic on breaks during my college years to make a little money. The family lumberyard closed when the big box lumberyard stores came to town, and it all sat in place for ten years before the family decided to end an era and sell off the contents of the buildings, and the buildings. It’s a sad thing really for the community.
Locally to where we live now, another small family lumberyard shut down this past Fall, and it surely seems hard to make money providing materials for customers with the new competition and the economy. What those big block stores in the City have in inventory, they don’t have in character and customer service though….the family owned lumberyard may be a distant memory for all of us soon I fear. We’ll all surely miss going to a family store and asking someone for help that has been working the store since they were a kid, solved every problem before that anyone could come up against, and knows where it all is in the store, or where else to find it. If you’ve never known a store like that, you’ve missed something important I feel. They even have a box of peanuts to munch on while you wait for your bill to be totaled up. Ever experienced a place like that? Ok, back to the story…..
The big lumberyard auction was a two day auction, but really it should have been four days. I ended up with some cool “picking” items, and a big Powermatic 18” Planer, and a big Central Machinery Shaper. Both were things I needed for the shop. I also went home with two cool looking old Siding Salesman Sample Cases for $1.00 each. I thought that one of those cases would make a neat carrying case for my carving gouges collection, but after laying out all of the gouges on the bench, it was clear that I needed a much bigger case. So, the old case was just sitting in the shop while I was trying to figure out how to carry our growing collection of Pinewood Derby cars and tools to the races. At this point, it just seemed that we were past the cardboard box, and needed something more professional looking. I looked over and the thought hit me that the old Salesman Case would be perfect for the cars and tools, except I couldn’t take all of the cars, that would take a bigger box still. I made the decision to pack our two new cars, and four of the other fastest and best cars we did earlier, and all of the tools we might need for race repairs, spare parts, etc.
At the Races….and the Results
The racing was broken into two divisions, the Scout’s, and the Open Outlaw division. We thought that we’d get the siblings and parents involved in making cars with their kids if we had a place to race them, separate from the Scouts. We decided to use the same rules for both divisions. Riley took 1st in the Scout’s Division, and Rachel took 2nd in the Open Outlaw Division. That was a good showing, but not my goal for the whole she-bang. We’ve had a good time spending quality effort together on a common goal, and it has really helped our relationships with each other as a Dad/Kids. There’s no trophy for that, but there are greater rewards.
As for the Trophies…..
I offered to build trophies for the races this year. I decided to make ONLY a 1st Place trophy for each division. All of the other cars would be given a certificate highlighting certain aspects of the car (i.e. most realistic, most creative, etc.). Now, I realize that making only One Trophy is a little counter cultural today. In today’s world, we seem to want all the kids to feel like winners, so many of the sports teams are giving out trophies to all the kids for participation, regardless of their efforts, practice time, missing practices, or success in the competition. I don’t think that is good for us long term as a culture. So, my little contribution to turning back that momentum, came in the giving of only a 1st Place trophy. After my kid won my donated trophy, I wasn’t sure that it worked out quite like I had hoped. But, it’s done now, and we’ve had our last official Pinewood Derby Pack race, since my son will be moving onto BSA after this. Up next is the Outlaw Races in another town that my nephew’s Pack puts on in March, and so we are making plans for prepping cars for that event…..together.
Love me or hate me, I’m just telling you what we did, and the why’s.
thanks for reading along,
P.S. as I was proof-reading and typing up this posting, my son came into the office, rubbed my back with his hand, and said to me, “What do you want to do together now Dad?” Does it get any better than that?
Go join scouts you Dads and Moms!
Our Car Photos
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com