When I was young and the world was my oyster, the field of automotive engineering beckoned.
    I was 9 that summer, and my buddy Steve was 10. We were exploring a junk pile behind an old shed when we uncovered a treasure: four steel wheels.    
    An unwritten rule among boys states that whenever wheels are available, some type of vehicle must be made from them. With this powerful instinct motivating us, we grunted and lugged the steel wheels to the farm shop. Much debate and consideration took place regarding our vehicle’s design.      
    What we finally decided upon was simple yet elegant. An old plank found in the corner of the shop would serve as our car’s body. We congratulated each other on this stroke of genius. Detroit would turn green with envy when they saw our car’s sleek, aerodynamic lines.     
    Next came the issue of a suspension system. In a bold, visionary move, we decided to totally eliminate it. We would thus save on unnecessary weight and further decrease drag.     
    Braking and steering would be accomplished via an innovative system we dubbed shoe brakes. The driver could alter his speed and trajectory by applying his shoes to the earth as it passed beneath the car. Increased pressure on either side would produce a turn; equal force on both sides would induce a stop.     
    Our car’s axles were handcrafted from rusty old pipes that we nailed to the plank. After greasing the axles generously, the wheels were installed and our vehicle began to take shape.     
    Next came the question of propulsion. The answer to this riddle was so simple, so elementary, we were amazed that automotive engineers had not thought of it. Their highfalutin educations must have gotten in the way.     
    Our car was so aerodynamic that drag would be minimal and the grease had all but eliminated friction. All that our car would need to initiate perpetual motion was a good-sized hill. A boy-powered boost at the start would launch our car down the path to infinite travel.     
    After endless hours of labor, which consumed most of an afternoon, our car was ready for road testing. We briefly argued over who should be the test driver. I won the day with the irrefutable logic that I was smaller and lighter.     
    We decided against testing our car on the nearby township gravel road for fear that a speeding ticket would consume our allowances for several decades. We instead chose to perform a test run on the cow path that ran down a steep hill in the pasture.     
    On our way out to the proving grounds, the driver expressed concerns about possible braking problems. He pointed out that his Keds were threadbare and their soles thin. The chief engineer assured the test driver that plenty of wear remained. If braking proved insufficient, plans were made to construct a drogue chute from a bed sheet that we could requisition from the clothesline.     
    The driver then brought up issue of air friction. Those were the early days of the Space Program, when Walter Conkite held us spellbound as he described the fiery re-entry of Gemini space capsules. The driver feared the velocity might be such that his clothing would ignite, necessitating a high-speed bailout.
    Lacking funds for fireproof clothing, the engineer proposed that the driver simply remove all combustible items. The driver balked and suggested a quick dip in the stock tank as a precaution. Another problem solved.
    When all was ready, I perched on our plank car at the top of the hill. Stock tank water mingled with sweat as I nervously clutched the edges of the vehicle.     
    After a dramatic countdown, the booster engine engaged with neck-snapping force. I clung to the plank as my speed quickly increased to the point where I was certain that I had broken the sound barrier.     
    An inconsiderate badger had decided to make his new home in the cow path. A front wheel struck the badger hole, causing an axle to abruptly separate from the car.     
    What happened next is a mystery to me. Steve said it was an awesome sight as a hodgepodge of dust and car parts flew in all directions.
    Steve was standing over me when I opened my eyes. “No fair,” he exclaimed. “You get to have all the fun!”     
    We collected the remains of our car and limped back to the farmstead. The booster engine needed refueling, so we raided the fridge for milk and cookies. My mother saw us and regarded me with disgust.
    “How can a boy get soaking wet and coated with dust at the same time?” she asked.     
    Moms just do not understand the finer points of automotive engineering.  
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.