Calumet Roots

Youngsters pushed the limits with surfboards and abandoned cars

2013-09-01T00:00:00Z Youngsters pushed the limits with surfboards and abandoned carsBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist
September 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

One of the practices common in the 1930s was the dumping of abandoned vehicles in empty lots. Naturally, this represented an invitation to youngsters who used those lots for recreation to gravitate toward the vehicles.

Sometimes, whole cars would be abandoned. What our little gang used to do was to use the vehicles as clubhouses. Naturally, our membership placed extreme pressures on the structure.

On one occasion, we used the car windows for testing purposes. The idea was to put pressure on the windows, which were thicker than a house window. That is, with the vehicle turned on its side, the windows were top and bottom, so we would stand on the top side and actually do a little dance on it.

This worked fine until the day I was dancing on the window and it gave way. In an instant, I was crashing through the top side window and wondering what had happened.

The more I think of that incident, the more I'm inclined to believe that most serious accidents that happen to young people occur because they go beyond the limits of a structure. I don’t know what the limit might be, except that it proceeds as limits are met.

For instance, four boys from our group decided to build a surfboard plus. They planned it very carefully. The inside of the surfboard was hollow. That is, the ceiling was one board and the bottom was another. It floated like Ivory soap on its best days.

The surfboard was a large one, built to accommodate six people. Its most common usage was with swimmers flat on their bellies paddling and causing the surfboard to zip speedily through the waters of Lake Michigan.

One day the lake suddenly turned ugly. The wind arose and the waves rolled like an avalanche. The boys on the surfboard appeared alternately on top of the world and then on the bottom between two giant waves.

The surfboard, which the crew had named “Bwang,” was carried out into the lake beyond its ability to turn and make progress. Fortunately, the boys remained in sight of workers at Inland Steel, who eventually got in touch with the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard showed up, fished out the boys, and returned to shore, which was lined with fire engines and police cars and rescue equipment.

Before long, Bwang’s crew had pushed the surfboard out beyond the point at which they had lately been rescued, and while no Coast Guard rescue was needed for that encore, the mark became a new standard, which was followed by another new standard, and then another.

Disaster was only a whisper away. It still might come. Young people of that era often lived with a catalog of so-called records. One that was quite popular was the billboard jump. The idea was to climb higher and higher before jumping down into the sand.

I think I held the record, because I could make it all the way to the top of the billboard before jumping and jarring my frame. I’m still suffering from the effects all that bravado had on my knees. I once thought having a shoe sole that took all the shock would be a great idea, and I’m not so sure I wasn’t right.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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