Wilkins Street east of Detroit’s Historic Eastern Market has a nice downhill slope to St. Aubin Street. The incline starts at its highest point, the overpass of the undeveloped portion of the Dequindre Cut. On my travels along that section of the street I would occasionally see skate-boarders or roller-bladers taking advantage of the gentle slope or people standing on the overpass checking out the graffiti below. That’s about it for pedestrians. But as I discovered, that wasn’t the case this past Saturday. As I pedaled along St. Aubin, I noticed Wilkins was blocked to traffic and downhill racers were rolling down the street in custom-built, wooden race carts.
The carts were constructed of two-by-fours, plywood, lawn mower sized wheels, and rope, used to steer the small racers, was connected to the wooded front axles. The driver seats were made of wood, some were padded and all had seat belts to hold the young drivers in as they rolled at what may have seemed to them some pretty swift speeds.
Driving the little beauties were Cub Scouts from various packs within the city of Detroit and the inner suburbs. In talking with parents and scout leaders, I was told the kids hand-built the carts with supervision, and they were on Wilkins to compete with each other. The slick little cars were built by the boys as a team project for their respective pack. Each of the scouts had the opportunity to pilot them down the hill and was scored by time. The driver’s time was averaged with their team and compared against the competing teams to arrive at a final score.
Much like sliding down a snow-covered hill on a toboggan, reality must have sunk in when they had to drag the carts back to the top for the next run. Everybody seemed to like going down, but climbing up the slope is never as much fun.
Although not as streamlined as Pinewood Derby cars, the graceful four-wheelers could roll at a pretty good clip. Based on the facial expressions I saw, they were a serious, proud bunch of drivers!