I don’t remember exactly what transpired to take me back to my childhood this past week and memories of making billy carts, but something triggered it so I thought I would share this with you.
Billy carts aren’t necessarily Australian, in fact I’m sure kids have been building these since the wheel was invented but it sure felt like it when as a scrawny 8 or 9 year old I began constructing my first billy cart in our shed.
Rudimentary to say the least, but a billycart none-the-less.
What is a billy cart you ask?
In those days it was almost a right of passage for all young boys my age to begin constructing their first vehicle that would transport them with thrills and giggles down any steep slope.
I still remember with fondness that we used an old wooden ironing board as the base. It was important that this surface was smooth so there were no splinters (very important).
Second, was the two pieces of wood perpendicular to the the ironing board, one at the back to hold the back wheels and one at the front to be anchored centrally so you could pivot and steer.
Next was finding wheels, I remember scavenging old pram wheels for my cart. These were infinitely the best as they were a little larger and thus helped with your speed.
Lastly the rope that you attached to the front axle. All set to go!
Next to our house we had a gravel road, which ran down the hill to the main road. At the time thought was incredibly steep. Although now if I was to go back and look it there would hardly have any grade at all. 🙂
My younger brother James and I would drag it by the rope to the top of the hill, then take it in turns being pushed like a bobsledder down the hill.
It didn’t take much to gather enough speed to careen down the hill before driving our heels into the hard packed gravel to slow us down so we didn’t fly out onto the main road.
Yeah, its a quick way to wear out a pair of old shoes or boots…I can still hear mum berating us for ruining our shoes “on the bloody billy cart” as she lovingly referred to it…
Yeah, for the first few years this was enough to get the adrenaline pumping and heart racing.
Well, that was until another kid from primary school (Vincent) and I constructed the “momma” of all billy carts at his place.
He lived at the other end of town, on river flats which was below the old gold mines.
Behind his house were enormous and towering mullock heaps. The soil taken deep from within the mines over a century before and now overgrown with grass.
I’m talking very steep, possibly up to a 60% grade…all I can say as a 10 or 11 year old it looked and felt vertical! 🙂
His construction was less billy cart and more old fashioned pram.
Yeah, Vincent was a daredevil.
He’d salvaged his “new cart” from the local dump, and after a cursory cleaning it was ready to set forth from on high with me as his trusty assistant.
Even at that young age I knew that this was a dangerous proposition…
Given that this was a pram and not a real billy cart he had no way to steer or even control the contraption once he started down the hill. All he could do was hang on for dear life and hope for the best.
I still remember dragging it up the hill. It was too steep to get all the way to the top.
We found a spot, and before I knew it he’d jumped in. Given the gradient I didn’t need to give him a push because as soon as he jumped into the pram he was off and charging down the steep incline.
More like flying down the hill as he continued to build speed and bumped his way over hard ground. At times he even got airborne over a bump or two but somehow it kept charging down the hill.
Now, this is where it got sticky…
With no breaks except for the barbed wire fence that was coming up fast he had no escape.
He ducked down as best he could but literally flew into the fence, and catching the top of the pram like a jet fighter hitting an aircraft carrier wire, he stopped on a dime and flipped backwards.
He ran down the hill to where he lay dazed and cut up by the barbed wire…
As I got there he was moaning softly, blood dripping from the half a dozen deep scratch marks over his arms where he had protected his face from the rusted wire.
His mum was none too happy with our collective antics, and after she surveyed his wounds I was sent on my way with a reasonable tongue lashing.
Suffice it to say that was our first and last run of this particular version of billy cart.
Over the ensuing months we tried a few different and more traditional versions down his back slope, but all with similar results.
That damn barbed wire fence!
So it was with great sadness that when I was back home late last year that after visiting my parents grave at the local cemetery I noticed a number of graves that I hadn’t noticed before.
One of them was Vincent’s….
It brought a flood of memories back to me and the fun times we’d had as young boys. I have to admit I was shocked with my discovery.
I suppose that’s the circle of life. I’m glad I still have these vivid and fun childhood memories to share with you.
Until next week