Mixsonian Morrs and Barbara Larry

Soap Box Derby

The Boys Club

Soap Box DerbyMy brother and I had been going to the Gainesville Boy’s Club off and on in the summers for a couple of years.  The Boy’s Club was in a large building on the other side of town on Waldo Road.  After the first time when Mom went in and signed us up, she would just drop David and I off at the front door and tell us when she would come back to pick us up.  There were all sorts of planned and free activities that boys could do, ping pong, basketball, board games, arts and crafts and so on.  There was a desk that you would show them your card and check out the games or equipment.  It had a large gymnasium which we would go in and play basketball or ping pong. One summer David signed up for the midget baseball league and the club.  I was on the Blue Jays team while David was on another. Since he was in a younger age group our teams never played each other.  I wasn’t all that good, largely because I wasn’t all that interested in it. 

What excited me the most about the Boy’s Club was the woodworking shop at the Boy’s Club which had all sorts of hand tools that you could use to make things.  They had kits you could by which could then assemble in the wood working shop. One kit was a simple balsawood airplane about six inches in length.  They were easy to assemble, slip the wing and tail though slots and adjust.  I would take them into the gym and toss them high into the air where the either spiral down or go straight across the gym depending on how you adjusted the tail.   I loved it, the tools, the wood, and the smell of fresh cut wood.   On one of the visits to the woodworking shop they had fliers for the Soap Box Derby and knew as soon as seeing it that I wanted to build one. 

 Soap Box Derby

Offical wheels   Offical wheels and axels

After getting the Soap Box Derby brochure from the Boy’s Club, I brought it home and showed it to Dad and told him I wanted to enter but it costs $22.50 to get the basic kit to enter.  That was a lot of money, I may have had a couple of dollars from my hard earned allowance of now 25¢ a week but the Boys Club had a list of sponsors who would pay the $22.50 if you put their name on your car.  After looking over the list I found Glock Hardware  was one of the sponsors.  Glocks was a small hardware store  just down the road from our house on West Steering wheel and cableUniversity Avenue in a small shopping plaza.  I had been there a number of times with Dad to get something or another and thought it was the coolest place with its three aisles of shelves packed floor to ceiling with every imaginable thing.  So after school the following week I road my bike to Glock’s, showed them the Soap Box Derby form and information and asked if they would sponsor me and they said yes and thus paid the $22.50 fee.  I was all set.

The first meeting was on a weekday night at 7 PM so Dad drove me to the Club and went to the meeting with me.  There were a handful of other boys with their fathers at the meeting where they gave and overview of the Derby, the rules and the schedule, gave everyone a rule book, but most importantly we all got box with the wheels, axles and steering kit.  It was so cool, four, rubber rimmed, bright red wheels and steel axles, a steering wheel with cable and turnbuckles.  The rule book not only had explained the rules about what you could and could not do, it also had all sort of information about how to build the car.   I remember studying the  book for hours going over each diagram again and again planning each detail of the car and what I had to build next.  There were the bulkheads, the brake system, the steering system and the covering. All that was needed was a few more parts and a lot of work. 

Soap Box Design

The Boy’s Club woodworking shop provided, at an extra cost, most of the remainder of the parts, a pre-cut bottom board, $2 for the basic one, $3 for the nicer one, I got the basic, four bulkheads $1.20, four eye bolts for the steering 60¢, and so on for an extra $9.40 which I put in the couple of dollars I had and Dad gave me the rest. 

Dad drove me to Boy’s Club three or four times over the next two weeks and I made progress.  I had the bulk heads installed, the brake mechanism built, but I needed to spend more time working on it and Dad couldn’t drive me over to the Boy’s Club more so we loaded what I had completed into the back of the station wagon and brought it home where I continued to work on it under our carport.  I worked on it everyday over the next couple of weeks, making axel covers which I carved into an aerodynamic shape using a spoke shave [picture) Dad got for me. I cut, bolted, hammered, connected steering and brake cables until everything was done but the covering.  Dad suggested using fiberglass for the covering and it sounded good to me, so he got a can of fiberglass resin and burlap bags for me.  I stretched the burlap bags over the frame, mixed the fiberglass resin and using a brush painted it over the burlap.  Well, it didn’t turn out too smooth, burlap being a mistake being a rough material made the covering rough and bumpy. I sanded it for hours and it still was bumpy but it would do.  I painted the car black using a can of paint that Glocks provided, and Glock’s had a professional painter paint their name and phone number on the side, “Glock Hardware, Dial FRANTIC”  the side and then I painted my number “66”.   It wasn’t the most beautiful car, but it did work.

Me and my Soap Box Derby Car
Me in my car on our car port.
Happy our dog in the foreground,
new air conditioner in dinning room window, back left

Gator HillSaturday July 18th was the day of the race, and I was excited. The race was at Gator Hill, the one and only hill on West University Avenue and 30th street which is just a short distance from our house and Glock Hardware.  The street was blocked off at each end of the hill and old tires lined each side of the road was lined with spectators.  At the top was the starting Me with my car and neighborhood kidsramp which you pushed your car up and then each car was held by a starting block which when dropped would release the cars down the hill reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour.  There were 46 boys that entered the race, twenty five in my age group division.  Race cars were lined up on both sides of the road awaiting their turn to race.  Several of the neighbor hood kids road their bikes to come see me race and hung around my car, I was excited but played it cool. 

Me crossing the finish lineMe crossing the finsh line

Me crossing the finish line When my first rase came they pushed my car to the top of the ramp and raised the starting block.  I put on the plastic helmet they provided and got in, hunched over for only my eyes were above the front of the car and waited. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I had driven my car up and down the street a few times with David pushing it, so I know the steering and brake worked, but this was a big hill, the cars went really fast, could I steer it, would it stop, I was a bit nervous.  The announcer announced the race and counted down, three, two, one, a loud thunk as the starting block was released and I was on my way. Slowly at first but quickly gaining speed going faster and faster.  I steered straight and true, not looking to ether side as I raced down the hill and passing the finish line the winner. I applied the brake, pressing hard, the smell of burning rubber from the piece of tire used on the brake and I came to a stop.  I looked up with a big smile on my face as Dad came over to help push my car back to our pit area on the side of the road as the loudspeaker officially announce, “Car 66 by Larry Mixson the winner.”  I made it to the second round.

The races continued, some boys going straight, others swerving more Car crashthan on had their brakes fail and men after the finish chased after them down the street.  But then came the race with boy in a beautifully smooth yellow car who swerved a bit too much, lost control, hit the tires, sending the spectators scattering, the car flipping over and landing upside down, its wheels still slowly spinning.  Except for his opponent speeding across the finish line, it seemed like time stopped for a moment, then everyone rushed over, surrounding the boy who was pulled out of his car and they took him to the hospital.  The boy who had one was surprised when he stopped, got out of his car and no one was there to congratulate him. The paper reported the next day he only had a few scratches on his face but otherwise was fine.  From my first race I had confidence in car and driving abilities and was less nervous than the first time in spite of the accident.  I won my second race but then lost the third and being a double elimination race, lost the fourth but coming in third place overall qualifying me to go to the regionals in Jacksonville. 

Dad doing last minute tune up before my race. Dad doing last minute tune up before my race.

David in sailor hat. In August I help Dad load my soap box derby car into the back of the station wagon and the whole family went to the regionals in Jacksonville.  There was quite a crowd, more than there was in Gainesville and I was quite excited abouTailgate Luncht it.  The starting ramp in Jacksonville was higher than the one in Gainesville but there was no hill like Gator Hill so the cars didn’t go as fast which was disappointing.  I won my first race but then lost the second.  Mom fixed a picnic lunch which we ate on the tail gate of the station wagon after which we watched some more of the races before returning home.

My soap box car sat covered up out back of the house for the next year or so, it was a big awkward thing, to big and heavy to do much with it so finally I took off the wheels and axles and made a small lightweight cart consisting of a single board with a set of wheels in front and one in back which we would sit on the board steering the cart using your feet on the front axle.  I tied a rope to the front, the other end to our bikes and David and took turns pulling each other up and down the street and a couple of times we towed it to what we called skateboard hill where we went down it several times.  It was a bit scary for there were no brakes, the only way to stop was to take your feet off the axle and drag them on the pavement.  

In 1967 Glock’s Hardware was sold and changed its name to George’s Hardware and they removed my picture from behind the counter. George’s Hardware closed in 2011.

Updated: 08-18-2022