Sunday, April 5, 2009


Nowadays the U.S. auto industry is hurting from foreign competition, but back in its heyday it hardly took note of its competition -- especially from the world's smallest car manufacturer based in El Paso, Texas. I of course am speaking of VBSWTC (Van Buren Street Wooden Transport Company), a company with a total vehicle output equal to one percent of Tucker Motors. Ours weren't your run-of-the-mill hunks of UAW-bolted metal. We were a family-held firm who built eco-friendly vehicles long before anyone had ever given any thought to the environment. We used only the highest quality bio-degradable materials -- a.k.a., old scrap lumber -- the most abundant renewable resource of our one-car garage (as if one car could be crammed into that garage with all the junk we had). The only drawback to the manufacture of wooden rolling stock was the procurement of components that ... well ... rolled. Wheels were in chronic short supply, so we, the brothers of ingenuity, made do with ex-roller skates which we securely rusty-bent-nailed into spare two-by-whatevers. (Important engineering tip: Roller skates of Japanese-tin manufacture will bear the weight of two kids per skate -- any more compressive load and skates will cease to function ... ever.)

Although skates made less than optimal rolling stock, we did have the compensation of a concrete test track with a steady three-percent grade, beginning at our front yard and terminating in a limestone-boulder-strewn drainage ditch way down at the big-numbered end of the 3000 block. Though (back in those vacuum-tube days) we lacked sophisticated Computer-Aided Design software to model the physics of our design, through full-scale modeling and trial-and-error testing (admittedly mostly error) we determined that within the length of our test track, wind drag and bearing friction got nowhere near the asymptotic limit on acceleration. The rhythmic "clickity-clickity" tempo of the skates over evenly spaced expansion joints (steadily progressing from a stately Adagio to an alarming Presto) was restrained from its Prestissimo Finale only by the fickle track's length. Thinking back, a functional braking system (although completely superfluous for most all of the trip down the block) would have come in real handy during those final panicky fifty feet that preceded the boulder field. Those limestone blocks did have a nasty tendency to strip the undercarriage from one's craft.

Luckily, we were well prepared to deal with such unforeseen vehicular wreckage. Our able manufacturing workforce immediately transformed into a crack team of highly skilled repair technicians -- artisans who deftly pried rusty-bent nails from the chassis, hammered straight the twisted metal of the former roller skates and then re-fastened our Globe-Union wheels to the timber even more securely with yet more rusty-bent nails. But alas, as with Tucker Motors, the Big Three-Minus-One (i.e., Mom and Dad) finally did us in, putting the squeeze on our supply chain until we found it impossible to keep the assembly line sufficiently supplied with wheels. (We ran through our entire stash of left-over skates from the previous Christmas and the 'rents saw no need to procure more "just so you ungrateful kids can destroy perfectly good toys.")

Oh well, better to have dreamed big and failed than never to have dreamed at all.


Jerry said...

Would the mailing address of said firm been 3003 or 3004?

Bob said...

We moved across the street just before my third birthday, so all my stories from early childhood have 3004 as their home base. Joel and Roy probably have stories from before the move.

Bag Blog said...

My brother and I manufactured the I-Car. It was simple in design - the shape of an "I" with wheels on the extremites. A bolt rather than nails on one axle and a rope for a stirring wheel made turning easy.

Gladys said...

Bob are you sure you and I aren't kin somehow? We used to play in the Cul-de-sac in our Linda Lou House in El Paso. We built derby racers and skate boards the size of a Dingless Dewayne regular surf board. Then we would go play in the desert at the end of the street digging to China and building tumble weed forts to fight the Indians.

Buck said...

I'm bettin' a subsidy could be had to save the industry today. Just a feelin' I have, yanno?

Bob said...

We were definitely before our time.

I'd like to think you and I are related, but sadly I suspect my brothers and I were actually the heathen injuns your tumbleweed forts were protecting you from. Seriously, we used to run around barefoot wearing little more than loincloths.

Bag Blog--
Steering? What an innovation!!!

Mrs. Who said...

I love this story! Back when kids put thought into their play and well, actually played!

PrimoDonna said...

Your post reminding me of my roller-skating days. I posted about it a couple of years ago. Go here if you are interested: