Open box, then assemble
Putting things together is as easy as 1, 2, 17
By Rob Krider
The paint on my rain gutters is peeling. The backyard gate won't close. Two of the front window shutters need repairing. My house needs some tender loving care. The big question is this: Am I working diligently on household to-do items and keeping my wife, whom I love, happy? Nope. Instead, I've been in the garage building my son's new Soap Box Derby car.
The All-American Soap Box Derby is a race for kids who sit inside and drive 7-foot "cars" that coast down steep harrowing hills. For the kids, it's a great time. For the dads, it's a truckload of work. The Soap Box Derby cars come as kits that have to be assembled. That means that fathers and children get to spend quality time together as they build the car. That is, until the sun sets, bedtime comes, and then Mom tells the kids they have to leave the garage to go to sleep. Then Dad gets to spend the rest of the night alone cursing and sanding the ends of his fingers off in an attempt to finish the car before the race.
Because I like to make things a challenge, I never even opened the box on the car kit until five days before the event. Staring at about 50,000, nuts, bolts, and washers, I realized the magnitude of the project and I began to panic. I wondered if we would ever get the car finished in time. The instructions on how to put the car together were vague to the point of being almost nonexistent. There were three pages on how to unpack the box and one page on how to build the car. The instructions practically said "assembly is the reverse of disassembly." The car came in the box in pieces. We never disassembled a thing.
I decided to check the Internet, where the world shares information--or at least the world gets together and complains about stuff--and this is when I found one parent's testimonial on car construction: "It took us six months to build the car." We only had five days, which really meant we had five evenings after work. I had a sick feeling in my stomach, which was actually a good thing, because it meant I could honestly call in sick to work.
The car has a wooden floor and a fiberglass body. The fiberglass body comes in four large pieces, which must be glued together with epoxy. Then the seams in the body have to be filled with Bondo and the body is required to be painted. If you're reading this and you're confused, don't feel bad. I was just as confused and I had to actually put the thing together. Looking at all that had to be done, I knew I was running out of time and was pretty sure that my son would be racing down the hill in a car with wet paint.
I learned that working with the fiberglass body has its own special benefits, like burning itchy skin and the feeling of thousands of small shards of glass in my arms. The Bondo I bought to smooth out the body turns from a gel into a hard putty in five short minutes. It took me 10 minutes of looking around my garage just to find a putty knife to apply the Bondo. Once the putty knife was located (under my kid's bicycle tire), the $15 worth of Bondo I had mixed up was suddenly a $15 rock. Filling small gaps in the body with a rock is not an easy task it is an impossible one.
The project was obviously not going well. I was frustrated with the lack of instructions and thus much profanity was seeping from the garage. This when my wife had that special timing to poke her head in the garage and ask, "How much longer till you're done?"
Covered from head to toe in fiberglass dust, with my fingers glued together with epoxy, I looked up and asked, "Done with what?"
"Done with the car?"
"If I work every day without sleeping, I think I'll have it done before the race in 2010."
I never quit, I kept hard at it, and two days before the race, I drug my son outside to have him test drive the partially built, partially complete, partially safe car. The good news was it rolled down the street and it looked pretty fast. The bad news was it didn't stop. Due to the lack of clear instructions, I installed the brake wrong and the car wouldn't stop. It eventually did stop right up against a parked car.
After the little brake snafu, I had a lot explaining to do to my wife about the safety of Soap Box racing and some explaining to do with one of my neighbors about the dent in his Ford. The next task was to drink a lot of coffee and try and stay up all night to finish the ever-increasing amount of work that needed to be done on the body of the car. I worked late into the night but didn't realize how loud a power sander is at 2 o'clock in the morning. My wife was quick to inform me that I woke her up--again.
When my son wasn't at school or asleep, he was helping me as much as he could. But mostly his help consisted of asking me 2,000 times: "Is it finished?" Finally, after two "sick" days, one dented Ford, one noise complaint, one wasted can of Bondo, and zero instructions, the car was complete and ready to race. Just don't touch it the paint is still drying.
So, in the end, spending quality time with my son as we built the Soap Box Derby car taught him how to procrastinate, curse, play hooky, and build things without instructions. He'll grow up to be a fine husband. m
For Father's Day this year, Rob's wife is getting him parenting classes.