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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Go-Karts and Doodlebugs

Go-Karts and Doodlebugs

I watched an episode of “Leave it to Beaver” today that I’d never seen before.  This is my favorite old TV show as it captures life in the 50’s that many people today would not believe existed.  These were times of six year olds roaming around town without parents knowing where they were.  These were days of stickball and touch football in the streets.  These were days of sex education taught by older kids and finding out that girls could get pregnant if you both used the same tooth brush.

In the 50’s mom vacuumed in a dress and had her hair done once a week at the Beauty Parlor.  Dad ate dinner in his suit and tie, and the children ate whatever was put on their plate. 

There was lots of bad stuff in the fifties.  People of color were treated as less than equal and faced fire hoses, dogs, and cattle prods if they tried to change the system.  Women had few opportunities other than teaching or secretarial work if they chose to not be a housewife.  Gay people did not exist…well not in the open anyway.  Instead of gay people there were spinsters and confirmed bachelors.

“Leave it to Beaver" only showed the fun side of the fifties.  It was all about carefree young boys growing up, getting in trouble and learning life lessons through experiences that today’s children learn in a more structured sterile environment.

Today’s episode was “The Beaver” getting in trouble for driving his home- built “Go Kart” in the street.  Farfetched?  My two older brothers built a similar vehicle when they were fourteen and twelve.  Their Go-Kart consisted of an old lawnmower engine, some boards, and wheels from a wagon.  It was steered with your feet turning the front axle.
This “Go Kart” traveled at about 20 mph.  My brothers did not drive it on the sneak; they were proudly watched by my dad who did far crazier things in his youth. 

When we moved back east from California, we did not bring the go kart.  Instead my brothers bought a small motor scooter called a “Doodlebug.”  No helmet, no license, no problem.   They sold it years later to my cousin.
We had lots of vehicles in those days, most were homemade.  A board and some roller-skates made a skateboard.  They did not turn very well, but most of the fun was in the building.


My friends and I once built a “Sail Car.”  It was basically a go kart powered by a sail hung from the mast of an old sail boat.  It worked, but was not very practical on streets which did not want to go in the same direction that the wind would allow the car to travel.

Fort building and tree houses were popular even into the eighties.  My son and his friend Ray built a fort in Ray's back yard from wood scraps and nails they “borrowed” from a construction site.
Today, parents do not allow such foolish activities from their boys.  This is probably a good idea, as there were lots of accidents in the past.  Kids crashed their cars, skateboards and sail cars, and were hurt.  Some tree houses were constructed poorly and children fell out.  A little boy around the block from us was killed playing “chicken” with his brother who was on a moped when he leaped in the same direction as his brother turned.

We did unsafe stupid things as boys back in the day, but we kept busy.  We didn’t do drugs or alcohol, we didn’t shoplift (nothing big anyway); we stayed out of trouble…most times.

What is my point you ask?  I have no point.  I merely got wrapped up in an old “Leave it to Beaver” episode and just had to wax nostalgically.

Does every post have to have a point?


  1. You're right....great memories. A friend and I built a small scooter similar to your doodlebug using a lawn mower engine and a centrifugal clutch. It was crude, but it beat walking. Yes, we did some things that would make today's parents cringe, but we learned a lot along the way, too.


  2. No it doesn't Joe and most of mine don't (although today's ironically does!).

    This brings back so many of my chilhood memories of the 70's, not much had changed from the 50's. We built go carts, dens and tree houses, climbed trees in the orchard to 'scrump' apples and generally ran wild.

    We had bruises and scraped knees on a daily basis and so much innocent fun that children today often miss out on.

    thank you for the reminder.

  3. I grew up mostly in the same time, a few years later. It pisses me off when people say the family life and social life in "Beaver" was a fantasy. No, it wasn't. I more-or-less had that life. I was a bit more in the city than Beaver and Wally, and My Dad sometimes wore his underwear at the dinner table, but the basic values and level of trouble we got into were the same. It was NOT some sort of 100% fantasy dreamed up wholly by TV, no matter what the naysayers would tell you today.

  4. What fun ... I found your blog off Lo's ~ she is such a ... insert all stellar adjectives ~ love her.

    I remember walking everywhere ~ across town ~ riding bicycles across town ... we girls didn't have a notion of being afraid of bad guys... the Creature from the Black Lagoon was our fear... and well, Dracula.

    Sleeping with an attic fan and an open screened window took on a new meaning after watching the 50s horror movies.

    Loved The Beaver... and my Mother wore a dress and stockings until the day she died at 96.5.

    I entered the 60s in full tilt rebel mode ... but the good stuff of the 50s will always be remembered.

    25¢ to get into a movie ~ double feature with a serial, cartoon and newsreel ~ turkish taffy and a big orange.

    Cruisin around all day in a pal's car after we each contributed a dime for gas.

    Well? now see you got me started...

  5. Point or no point this was a fun post to read...especially for those of us who lived through the best and worst of the times you are waxing nostalgic about.

  6. Fun, nostalgic post. I have to agree with Suldog.. I thought that Leave it to Beaver quite accurately portrayed much of how we lived at the time. Except for the fancier at-home clothes.

  7. Yeah... what Jim said, and you, of course. I pretty much lived next door to Ward and June as a child... that life WAS real.

  8. Great memories. Mine don't go quite that far back but far enough to get the point.


  9. ..." These were days of sex education taught by older kids and finding out that girls could get pregnant if you both used the same tooth brush."

    Oh, my THAT how it happened......I wish someone had told me.

    "Crimminently,Sandy," as Little Orphan Annie would say.....I am sitting here with hands pressed to my heart, sighing and painted everything perfectly (and the 40's were the same only better).

    So many quotable bits above that I could end up reprinting your entire blog, but to say there is no point to it is hugely wrong.......the point is that you have evoked a thousand wonderful memories and made a bunch of us very happy.
    Thanks for all of that.

  10. Perhaps the point is we made the best of our childhood(s); these modernd short people will need to make the best of theirs. It's what they have.

  11. It was wonderful to be a child when you were allowed to be a child!!

  12. At the risk of opening a can of worms, I've read that experts believe American men are becoming soft and unmanly because so many were raised by single moms, and moms are into nurturing, not encouraging their sons to do activities where injuries might occur. Dads are the ones who generally teach boys how to be tough. I'm not sure this is true but I keep reading it.

    I also grew up on Leave It To Beaver and I smile today at the wholesomeness of life as it's depicted on that program.

  13. I love the nostalgia. Just fine by me and enjoyable to read.

  14. So, you're saying all that Leave it to Beaver stuff we make fun of like vaccuming in pearls and all that was real?
    Were people really that happy and respectful? Maybe just in nice small towns, as they have been and hopefully will continue to be...
    I always picture it as sort of tense restraint of human "we survived the depression and WWII and now, goddammit, we're gonna be HAPPY." But artificial, which is why the baby boomers tore it down so quickly. Tell me, wise but cranky old man, what do you make of this?

  15. Great post! It reminded me of when I used to build go carts with my brother and then race them down the hill we lived on. I'm still not sure how we didn't crack our heads open when we'd fall off at the bottom, but we never did.

  16. You are right Joe, every post doesn't have to end by making a point, thanks for jogging my memory of days gone by, I'd sure like to see the kids today enjoy some of the pleasures we had then.

  17. After growing up with Beaver and Wally, and Lassie and Timmy, and Fury and Joey, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto...I can only think of those times in black and white.

  18. I don't remember that episode, so I musta missed it. (No WAY I simply forgot it!0

    We made skateboards out of our old street skates and a board, too. (Loved those old skates!) We had a super duper tree house, too. With a thick rope attached, so we could yee-HA! out of the tree.

  19. Except for the go-cart and doodlebug, you were writing about me, my brother, the kid up the street and any number of other kids who crossed our paths.

    The rich kids from the next neighborhood to the north had store bought go carts and other fancy toys.

  20. "Leave It To Beaver" seemed pretty real to me as well. Great post Joe, wax nostalgic any time you like.

  21. I watched Leave It to Beaver, too, even though there were no black or non-white people on it. lol It was a show that depicted family life and love, something that we all should be able to relate to.

    I remember the go karts. My brother and friends dabbled a bit, but I don't recall an engine being available. They also made skate boards using wood and old roller skates.

    Who sang that song, "Thanks for the Memories?" Bob Hope?