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Guestwords: Fake Mechanic, Real Panic

Wed, 06/14/2023 - 17:44
The ultimate garage project, from father to son.
Michael Malone

It was with both happiness and a tinge of disappointment that I saw the go-kart my son and I built years ago drive away. It didn’t actually drive away — that would’ve made me proud. No, the kart we spent months building — me trying to figure out motors and chains and wheels and other tricky hardware — was being carried away by a stranger in a pickup truck.

Almost a decade ago, my son was about 8, and desperately wanted a go-kart. A motorized go-kart.

We’d built a non-motorized one a couple years before that, a wooden kart from a kit we found online. We painted a 6 on the side, like a race car, the number signifying my son’s age at the time. He had fun rolling down the driveway, and I enjoyed pulling him on a paved path near our house, with a rope we strung through the front of the kart.

But a few years later, he wanted a motorized kart. Step on the gas, and move forward. No father required to pull the rope. Some dads are made for putting together things with motors and wheels. I am not that dad. I kept telling my son we’d start the kart project soon, hoping he’d lose interest. But he never did.

And so we began. I ordered that same wooden kit online, bought some lumber, and we built the wooden one again. Easy part done.

Now the hard part — attaching a motor to it, and having it all work, from the key to the gas pedal to the motor and big rubber wheels.

It took me several months. Ordering supplies online and trekking over to the industrial supply shop to get the odd part. Dropping by my local lawn mower repair shop to see if the guy there had a solution to whatever problem we might have that day. Asking random gearheads online for their input.

I was uncomfortable every step of the way. But my kid really wanted the motorized kart, and I kept working. It turned into a second full-time job. It ate into my real job, as I watched YouTube videos, and made calls, and wondered how I would get the thing to run — all in an effort to be the dad my son seemed to think I was.

Finally, we had all the parts, and everything appeared to be in the right place. My son sat in the driver’s seat. He gripped the steering wheel we’d carved out of wood. He turned the key and stepped on the gas.

I held my breath.

He hurtled forward, a smile on his face. I may have broken into tears of joy. He went for 10 feet, 20 feet, 25 feet, my heart racing, before the kart stopped short.

The chain that the motor turned had come undone.

My boy knew the toll the motorized kart had taken on his dad — he could see how the gray hairs had multiplied on my head. Being a little kid, he was mostly onto the next thing anyway, whether it was building Big Ben out of Legos or the Titanic out of cardboard. I asked him if he wanted to work on the kart some more, and he mercifully said no.

The kart sat in our garage for the next eight years. Every time I got the lawn mower out — the appreciation I now have for motorized things that actually run! — I saw the kart, huddled in the corner, a reminder that, even amidst your best efforts, you won’t always be the father your kid wants. I didn’t have the heart to throw it away, and the hardware I’d bought for it was worth a couple hundred bucks.

I asked my wife if she wanted to try to give away the kart on our town’s free giveaway page on Facebook. I gave her a couple photos, she posted it, and got an inquiry right away. A day later, a man came to pick it up.

I went out to the driveway to see it off. He said he was well familiar with cars and motors, and had two young sons, and they loved cars, and building projects — especially building projects involving cars.

I told him the back story of the cart, and how hard I’d worked on the darn thing. He smiled and said he and the boys were likely going to strip it down and reuse the parts. Then he drove off, our kart in the back of his truck.

I was saddened to realize the kart as we knew it — as we built it — would ride no more. But I was happy to know the parts we’d assembled — the motor, the wheels, the chain — would live on. This dad and his boys would spend days and weeks and maybe months working on their motorized creation, as my son and I had done, and hopefully with better results.

I wish them the best. 

Michael Malone, a native Long Islander, reviews books for The Star.

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