Thursday, January 01, 2015


When our Eldest Son participated in a Pinewood Derby race, we went out together to buy the kit. I showed him how to clamp the block down, and started the saw cut for him. His enthusiasm waned as he rasped and sanded and painted. I insisted that the axle positions were critical, and showed him he could try to make sure they went in straight.

In the end, he seemed happy with it--after all, he'd done the work himself, albeit with some impatience. It didn't win, but it was well above most of the pack in speed--seemed to slow down a bit with time (Were the axle positions twisting? I never knew.). It was not a thing of beauty, nor lightning fast, but it was clearly made by the boy and not the father, and it was something any boy could make who could afford the $4.50 for the kit and had a few ordinary tools in the house.

I was browsing while waiting in Hobby Lobby last month, and happened upon the Pinewood Derby shelf. The kit itself is the least of it now: you can even buy a special jig to make sure the axle goes in at the right position and angle. Entry level seems to have gone up to about $50.

The playing field was never perfectly equal in the derby: setting aside the parents who did the work for the boy, those who didn't have a saw or rasp or hammer at home were never going to turn out a fast racer, and those who didn't take the instruction's advice and try to arrange their own axle jigs wouldn't either. And there's nothing one can reasonably do to take out the income advantage, unless everybody is making theirs in the same project room with the same gear. Still it seems like an unhappy additional bias.

Plus, of course, the kids don't get the experience of making their own tools.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

We did Pinewood Derby almost 30 years ago. Even had we broken the rules and had me do most of it, other fathers were better than I anyway. I recall making my own more than 50 years ago, in one of the years when I had no father. I was happy that it was not an abject failure, and my son felt much the same in his day. I do still recall the resentment at those who cheated. I suppose that is also a life-lesson. In their defense, the intended lesson of self-reliance was a good one, but not the only valuable lesson a boy might learn.