Getting up on their soapbox
A supporter sets off a confetti streamer "bomb" as Les Jackson of Turners Falls completes his first heat in Sunday's fourth annual Soapbox Derby.
Sitting in the lap of a large stuffed frog, Nicholas Jarvis, 11, of Deerfield races in the fourth annual Montague Soapbox Derby on Sunday. "He's just always liked frogs," Jarvis's dad said of the choice for the design of his son's car, called "Frogger."
"Bones" LaRue of New Salem drives the LOOT racer, a contraption that uses wire spools for wheels, during Sunday's fourth annual Montague Soapbox Derby.
TURNERS FALLS — Fittingly for the first day of fall, and what the supermarket candy aisles indicate is the Halloween season, Sunday’s Montague Soapbox races saw several vehicles returned from the grave.
Others looked designed to kill their drivers.
Ralph Baldwin’s silver soapbox cart in the style of a vintage vehicle was in fact a 1931 Model A Ford at one point, mostly.
“I just kept taking sections out of it until I got down to a size I thought would be correct,” he said. “The nose piece is a ’97 Dodge truck hood.”
Baldwin, 50, of Connecticut, originally had another plan for the old Ford’s metal skin, until a friend suggested a race cart.
“I was going to make a planter and put it in the front yard, but since I don’t have a house nobody can see from the road, it was almost a waste, so this was a much better idea,” Baldwin said.
The friend was Eugene Aakjar, whose entry this year began as a 1934 Ford and a piece of duct work.
The components of Dave LaRue’s cart began life as everything but a car. LaRue, 48, a New Salem resident, built the cart with donations from friend John McNamara’s warehouse and a few pieces of gantry pipe from his film work.
McNamara co-owns industrial antiques shop Loot, on Avenue A in Turners.
“It’s all stuff from the warehouse that would eventually probably go in the shop,” McNamara said. Built around a wooden board, the cart featured steel-rimmed wire spools for wheels, a stack of empty nail kegs and extraneous weights, cranks and gears.
LaRue steered with foot pedals on the front axle, gripping tobacco hooks — long steel implements similar to stretched meat hooks — attached to the axle for added control.
The cart was built for style over speed, and Baldwin and McNamara expected the cart to slide about on its metal rims. Announcers communicated the concern to spectators, reminding everyone to stay behind the hay bales, but the cart’s first run ended without anyone getting hurt.
The field of 34 racers was primarily adult, with 24 adults, three kids and seven in the teen division with Kyle Bry of Turners Falls, 13, again competing in the adult division due to the sophistication of his cart.
Christine Aakjar, 45, raced alongside husband Eugene, 39, and said they started because their kid was having all the fun.
“We’re here to teach the young people how to have fun,” Baldwin added.
The race wasn’t entirely for the adults.
Whately siblings Nicholas Jarvis, 11, and Kelsey Jarvis, 13, sat on the curb at the top of the Second Street hill, waiting for Nicholas’s second run while father Todd Jarvis cleaned and greased the cart’s spindles and axles.
While Nicholas was disappointed by the first run, they were already talking about larger wheels for next year, which would be their second as entrants rather than spectators.
“We always come with our grandfather and we both really enjoyed it, so we decided we were going to build a car and he would drive it,” Kelsey said. “It’s a fun project that we’ve been working on for about a year now.”
Kelsey said they had been working on it for about a year and their father taught them to weld during the process. The end result was the frog car, bright green and carrying a huge stuffed frog Nicholas won at the fair.
Todd Jarvis said he heard multiple drivers might be able to race the same cart next year, and if so they all might take turns racing the cart.
The race brought out a fair number of new carts, including Montague resident Joe Landry’s streamlined red shell, Turners Falls Fire Capt. John Zellman’s miniature fire truck and familiar entries including the ever-present rooster cart and Halifax resident Sam Groves’ red plywood racer, decorated with a picture of himself at age 9 in a former cart on Sept. 2, 1954.
A project of Montague Community Television, the event is in its fourth year and counting. Race director Michael “Mik” Muller founded the race in 2010 as a fund raiser for the the community access cable station and is already planning the fifth year.
Here are the top three finishers from each division:
In first place, Emily Williams of Turners Falls, followed by Andrew Nordell of Greenfield and Ethan Jackson of Turners Falls.
In first place, Kyle Kirkland of Greenfield, followed by Nick Karsten of Leverett and Ivy Muller of Greenfield.
Greg Kilmer of Sharon, Ct., followed by Joe Landry of Montague and Greg Williams of Turners Falls.