Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Start Your Engines part 1 - Weston, MA

The spirit of volunteering must be one of the greatest cultural strengths of the United States. I challenge you to find one single friend or neighbor or acquaintance who does not donate his or her time or money in some way to the greater good of the school, the town, the environment, the arts, animal charities or whatever. I'm sure there is a hermit somewhere who doesn't but you're going to have to scratch the surface pretty hard.

Just in my neighborhood, people go in once a year to help at a school event, or they go every week or go every day. They donate books to the local library, pick up trash from the street, teach English as a second language, coach sports teams, foster decrepit dogs back to happiness and health and on and on and on. It is as American as apple pie, but most folks do it without thinking much about it.

Today I want to talk specifically about one volunteer organization--to me, perhaps the mother ship of all volunteer organizations. I am talking about the Scouts.

The Boy Scouts, per Wikipedia:

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States with 2.7 million youth members and over 1 million adult volunteers. Since its founding in 1910 as part of the international Scout Movement, more than 110 million Americans have been members of the BSA.

The BSA's goal is to train youth in responsible citizenship, character development, and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities, educational programs, and, at older age levels, career-oriented programs in partnership with community organizations.
I had been impressed with Boy Scout Troop 157 (Weston, MA) since before we moved here. When I contacted them in June 2014, one of the leaders emailed back and told me all about the fall activities and invited my kids to check it out when things started up in September. And so we did, and built paper towel roll stomp rockets. Camped out at the lodge in the rain (oh wait, that was BH), learned the Cub Scout sign, and for my once-Brazilian kids, learned the pledge of allegiance.  Still on the calendar for the year is an overnight on a battleship (that is for BH to do), camping, hiking, etc. And hopefully shooting marshmallows out of rifles. Yes, I am anti-gun. I make one exception: marshmallow rifles.

Paper towel roll rockets at the Scout Lodge

From the get-go what strikes you about the boy scouts is how many people help out. Boy scouts building the fires at the camp out and with the fathers (and mothers!) with uniforms or those less official set up, took down, managed popcorn orders, meetings and more. Our Cub Scout leader is fantastic--funny, engaging, and energetic. He is also possibly a polar bear: he wears cargo shorts in February. I could go on and on about the Cub Scout spirit of volunteerism, but my point somewhere in all of this is the Pinewood Derby, one of the biggest events in the Cub Scout calendar, run since 1953.

With apologies, I will again turn it over to Wikipedia to explain the Pinewood Derby:

The Scout is given a block of wood made of pine four plastic wheels and four nails. The finished car must use all nine pieces, must not exceed a certain weight (usually five ounces (150 grams)),must not exceed a certain width (usually 2-3/4 inches (7 cm))and length (usually 7 inches (17.8 cm)) and must fit on the track used by that particular scout pack.

Blocks can be whittled with a hand knife or a bandsaw or a Dremel carving tool for major shaping. Decals can be bought at scout shops or hobby shops. The original style is based on open-wheel cars; however, fender or body kits are available, or wheels can simply be placed outboard of the body.
Other than the previous basic design rules, the Cub Scout is able to carve and decorate the car as he chooses. Many Cub Scouts also add weights to the final design to bring the car to the maximum allowable weight; coins, glue-in lead pieces, and melted lead are common ways to add weight. Cars typically vary from unfinished blocks to whimsical objects, to accurate replicas of actual cars. Graphite is usually the only lubricant allowed, and it often helps to polish the provided nails.
Pinewood Derby kit (image credit: wikipedia)

Now, as you may or may not know, BH travels a lot. And you guessed it: the pinewood cars are theoretically supposed to be built by the kids, but in actuality, the fathers (occasionally mothers or others) are the major construction workers. So we were working from behind (and when I say "we", I mean "not me.") since the cars were handed out only in December--undoubtedly so some folks did not work on them a year in advance.

We were casual about the cars. We were going to participate, have fun, have pretty painted cars and hope for the best. BH watched videos on youtube on how to best build a car with proper weighting, polishing etc but we were anything but crazy about getting things just perfect. In general, though, to say that there is a HUGE to-do around this would be an understatement. There is another way of saying it: people are nuts. But that will probably be tomorrow's blog. Titled: "People, and especially Cub Scout dads, are nuts. Except BH."

"Gronk" car
The kids designed the shapes of their cars: BH carved them. The kids painted their cars: BH put on the wheels and measured the weight on the kitchen food scale. The kids named their cars "Gronk" for a beloved New England Patriots football player, and "Dragon Master" for the painted Chinese dragons on the other. 
Dragon Master car

 Due to a tremendously busy schedule and the fact that Brazilians have a different concept of time and its passage, the cars were wheel-less, weight-less and basically carved painted pieces of wood as of 6 am on race day (races started at 9 am, with check-in at 8:30). 

And this is where I will say that I am impressed with the Brazilian. BH. The Brazilian husband. The one who had never heard of a pinewood derby until January. Or done the scouts. Or let's face it, carved a piece of wood (yes, he is a mechanical engineer. I don't know what that means). 

Between 6 am and 8 am, the cars got their wheels, had their graphite applied, were weighed and adjusted and finished with all of us in the car at 8:15 am on our way to the church where the race would be held. The kids were happy and excited and nervous...but none of us had any idea what awaited us. An event so extraordinary that I will have to do a part 2 on this tomorrow. It would take me too long. What an incredible event, all brought to the Weston cub scouts by the volunteer leaders and builders and track monitors of the day. 

Now you have to idle your engines til tomorrow.


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