The Time My Dad Used a Garbage Bobsled to Go into Low Earth Orbit
One time my dad found a bobsled frame.
We used to go out on summer Wednesdays, garbage night, to the nice neighborhoods. He’d be in the driver’s seat, me on a telephone book in the passenger side; both holding cold sweating cans of off-brand cola.
It was on such an evening we spied an orange piece of metal sticking out of the trash. I wasn’t really sure what it was at first, but when my father said it was a bobsled I thought that was pretty cool. Granted my only context for a bobsled was the movie Cool Runnings which came out the year before, but it was still a neat find. The thing went into our garage and over the summer pop found a derelict pair of skis to use as runners and did a little bit of “structural re-engineering” on the piece.
By the time the winter came around, I had almost forgotten about the thing…that is until the first snow.
For some reason, perhaps because New Jersey opts to cull a certain amount of children- leaving only the strong- our huge sledding hill terminated into a wide rushing river tributary. There was enough space for a child going reasonable toboggan speeds to slow down well before the brush-covered ledge that led to icy water over a rocky riverbed. Even if you lost control and went too far you little child form could barely part the green growth. Not so for an adult man in a stripped-down bobsled-danger-mobile.
Pop had been working on a motorcycle in the garage at that point, an old honda, and he had the front end of one, with windscreen and headlight. So when the first good snow was supposed to come down my father went out and attached it to the front of the bobsled. This not only gave it a fair amount of front weight, but he attached a battery so the headlight actually worked.
With snow coming down we pushed the thing onto the trailer and dragged it off to the sledding hill. What we must of looked like dragging this strange contraption to the top of the hill I don’t know- but we got it up to the appropriate position. My mother was extremely skeptical.
He gave us a thumbs up and shit eating grin and pushed off. Holy Crap, did that thing fly. It whizzed down the hill at speeds that put every tobboganer to shame. There’s only one thing- he wasn’t slowing down and the end of the hill run off was rapidly running out. Then, there was no more hill, the bobsled frame rocketed through the brush, the creek's lip creating a ramp that launched my father up into the air in an elegant arc over the water. He hung for an inexorable amount of time in that air. I had a moment where wondered if he would make it to the other bank... But then gravity exerted its pull. My father hit the water with a heavy splash.
My mother and I were in shock. Was he alright? We jumped into the toboggan and slid down the hill. I remember thinking it was the only time I’ve ever wanted a sled ride to be shorter. When we got to the bottom my father was fine, and already dragging the bobsled out of the water to give it another go. However, my mother pointed out that if he went again and died this time I’d probably starve to death. (We have a family business - dad is a locksmith and a safe tech and mom runs the shop and does the books.) I guess he saw her point, and his back was already a little hurt, so we packed up the bobsled and went home.
“Pretty great airtime, right kiddo?” said Dad.
“Yeah!” I said.
“You almost died.” said Mom.
“But it was still pretty great! Admit it.”
“That thing goes back into the trash.” My mother was firm.
And so we went home to eat soup and the bobsled went into the garbage…but that night it disappeared from the trash pile. Other trash pickers had found it, the cycle could continue.
Godspeed bobsled, wherever you are.