Or better known as “hell on wheels.”
We were mostly young teenagers then and before we were allowed to drive a car or even begin learning how to drive a car, but we wanted to drive something. And just in time along came the go-cart craze. Joey Giammalva was the first on the block to get one, followed by Manard Lagasse. I think I was next, followed by Bobby Manard.
We had an interesting variety of go-carts. Joey’s and mine were the same model with a two-stroke engine, which required mixing oil with the gasoline. It was low slung and fast looking, with the emphasis on the “looking” part.
Manard’s go-cart looked more like a soapbox racecar stripped down to the skeleton without the outer body. It was long and not as wide as the ones Joey and I ran. Manard’s “soapbox” go-cart was powered by a four-stroke engine, and this resulted in long heated discussions on the merits of two-stroke verses a four-stroke engines, the precursor of later heated discussions on the merits of Chevy verses Ford engines when we graduated to cars.
My cousin Bobby’s go-cart was a two-seater, which I suppose was so he and his older sister, Melanie, could ride at the same time, although I don’t recall Melanie ever showing up with the “go-cart gang.” And Boo, my uncle and Bobby and Melanie’s dad, generally restricted Bobby’s go-cart activity with us older kids. When Bobby got the “keys” to the go-cart and joined us, he was just as bad as the rest of us, confirming his father’s suspicions.
Several other neighborhood kids also acquired go-carts, and one was Al LeBlanc who lived way over on Compromise Street. Getting together required someone traveling across Kenner and subsequently getting the unwanted attention of the Kenner police, since we usually used streets to get around when sidewalks were not available or inconvenient, and they were rarely convenient. They harassed us for a while but eventually gave up; I suppose resigned to the “fact” one of us would eventually get run over by a car and scare the rest into staying off the streets. Fortunately, that never happened, although we did have a few close calls.
Real helmets were non-existent then. We improvised with Army surplus helmet liners from WWII, which offered the barest minimum of protection. We used them mainly because they looked cool. Most of us painted them white, which did make us a bit more visible to motorists, and Ralph Marino painted clever names and logos on the front for us. I was “The Cheetah,” and my logo was a hand of cards comprised of five aces. Wish I still had that helmet!
As red-blooded American boys are wont to do, we pushed our go-carts to the limits. How fast can we go was the first question to find an answer for? We soon discovered they had two speeds: full-speed-peddle-to-the-metal and stop. If we weren’t stopped and jaw-boning, we were going full-speed-peddle-to-the-metal somewhere, which was around 20-25 mph. That was a guess, since none of us never actually clocked our go-carts to find out. Races were a common occurrence in the beginning, but since we were not modifying them to go faster, the results were always the same unless someone cheated. Racing soon got boring.
So instead of racing, we challenged each other to do stupid stuff with our go-carts. When we got older, this would be characterized by the phrase “hold my beer and watch this.” If we could find anything even remotely resembling a hill from which we could launch ourselves, we would see if the go-carts could jump. Actually, they do though not very well and landing was hard on the spine since they were not sprung. We discovered if we got up to full speed then jerked the steering wheel to one side or the other while we locked up the breaks, which were only on the rear wheels, we could do a 180 spinning turn, kind of hard on the tires but fun.
Unfortunately, this trick sometimes had unintended results. Once I led the pack doing this in the middle of Minor Street with Manard in his soapbox go-cart behind me. I stopped after accelerating out of my 180 turn and looked to my right just as Manard’s go-cart puttered past me—minus Manard. He was sprawled out on his back in the middle of Minor Street where he fell off while doing the 180 turn.
Another “fun” thing we did was mix go-carts with roller skates, but that is another (painful) story that will follow soon.
When I got older, and the go-cart craze wore off, MB removed the engine from mine and modified it with bicycle peddles for my two younger sisters to use. MB got the gearing wrong. The girls had to peddle like crazy to get the thing to even move at a snail’s pace. They were exhausted just going twenty feet, but maybe that was his intention. And thus was the ignoble end of my beautiful go-cart.
But that was OK with me; I had graduated to cars! Did you know you can do with cars a lot of the things you can do with go-carts? A lot, but not all.