From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Pinewood Derby

The Pinewood Derby race fast approached in my son’s Cub Scout den, so you know what that meant for a handy guy like me: updating the homeowners insurance.

I had all of the neat power tools a dad would need to make a classic Pinewood Derby car. And I knew how to plug every one of them into the socket.

It got tricky after that.

So, needless to say, when my son received his rectangular block of solid wood, four wheels, and four nails to hold the wheels in place, he stared up at me with those hero-worshipping eyes that said, “What masterpiece are we going to build, Dad?” I went right for the rules.

“What are you looking for?” my wife asked. “The rules on how much a dad can do to help build the car?”

“No,” I answered, “the rules on how much a dad can pay to purchase one on eBay.”

“Oh, won’t that be lovely,” she said. “I can hear it now. On race night, when the Cubmaster goes around the room asking the boys what part they played in the design and build of their Pinewood Derby cars, our son can say that he typed in your credit card number. Maybe there’s a patch for that?”

I got the point. I also explained I was inept with tools. But she reminded me that our son had his hopes pinned on making a car, and as his father, it was my responsibility to help him realize that dream.

So first, I tried the easy approach.

“What are we going to make, Dad?” my son asked as we walked ceremoniously into the garage.

A wide, dramatic smile spread across my face (the same I used when telling him the doctor’s shot wouldn’t hurt). “This,” I said as I pulled the uncut block of wood from the original box and held it above my head.

My son’s face sank. “A block of wood?”

“Yep,” I said excitedly.

“We aren’t going to cut it and sand it and put in a steering wheel?”

“We don’t need to,” I explained. “Now, don’t scream for joy too loud and frighten the neighbors, but this block of wood is really . . . now brace yourself . . . a runaway train.”

His face brightened. “Cool! You mean a steam engine with cowcatcher and smokestack?”

“No, silly,” I said, maintaining my enthusiasm. “I mean a boxcar with Southern and Pacific.”

After my son stopped crying, I switched to Plan B: making a sports car. Several hours later, my wife walked into the garage.

“You’ve been working on that car all of this time?” she asked, looking at her watch.

I nodded. “All except the two times I drove to the Boy Scout store to purchase more Pinewood Derby kits.”

She studied my efforts. “What are you making?”

“Guess,” I said, holding up the near-finished car.

“It looks like driftwood.”

“Because it’s smooth and sleek?”

“No, because it’s bent.”

Plan C called for sending my son to his grandpa’s house with a new Pinewood Derby kit. They made a beautiful car.

Later, my wife told me it was okay that I’m not handy—she said I did plenty of good things with our son. She also said to look on the bright side.

“Which was?” I asked.

“We now have kindling for the fireplace.”

I wonder if power tools burn, too?

Ken Swarner

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