I had a lot of jobs when I was growing up: a bush pilot; a deep-sea diver; an astronaut; and a cow herder; but by the end of the summer of my eighth year, I had decided to give the job field a rest for a while—at least for a school year. My friend Crazy Eddie Muldoon tried to stop me, but I couldn’t be deterred. I knew if I kept working with him on his crazy jobs, I might not live to become the mountain man I always wanted to be. His last attempt at keeping me in the work force was to make me a rocket-car driver. And it came right after my unsuccessful stint as a submarine sailor.
My submarine career was actually what inspired me to give up working in the first place. Eddie and I were bored one day, and we were tired of laughing at the Muldoons’ herd of cows (who were already having a wonderful summer thanks to Eddie and me), so we decided to make a submarine. When it was finished, the S. S. Muldoon, as Eddie called it, consisted of a wooden water barrel for the body, a bag of rocks for ballast, a toy periscope, and an old fan blade for the propeller. All things considered, it looked exceptionally seaworthy.
We were going to test it out at Sand Creek behind the Ferguson place. But before we could set sail, we had to check for water-tightness, so we set it up on two sawhorses and Eddie was going to spray it with his garden hose while I climbed inside and watched for leaks. When I was ready, he turned on the hose and sprayed away. I was promptly blinded by a spout of water and began trying to block it with my hands. Then everything started spinning around and I began feeling dizzy, but I was glad the water had stopped spraying me. After what seemed like a few minutes of spinning, light broke all around me and I couldn’t find the submarine anywhere, but a ways up the hill (which, oddly, I hadn’t seen when we started testing) I could see numerous planks of wood strewn about; I still had the periscope in my hand. As Eddie later related the episode to me—for I couldn’t have seen it from inside the submarine—I rolled down the hill and right through the Muldoon cows, who were standing in a triangular formation, scattering them all over the place like bowling pins; apparently I got a strike.
“Are you alright?” Eddie yelled as he ran down the hill.
“I think—” But I couldn’t say much more than that: I felt an unnatural churning in my stomach and something swelled up my throat. Eddie stopped running, grimaced, and turned around quickly, covering his mouth with his hand.
When I stopped feeling dizzy, Eddie approached me and tried to console me. “Since the submarine didn’t work, I have another idea.”
“We’ll be a rocket-car driving team. We’ll be stars!” he said,”We’ll beat all of the other rocket-car drivers hands down. And we’ll get lots of prizes and money and Jaime Peterson down the street might even—“
“Really? Okay. But where will we get the car?” I asked, walking up the hill.
“We’ll build it, obviously. Come back over tomorrow and we’ll get started.”
Eddie was an expert in the field of auto-mechanics. When I went back the next day, he almost had the whole thing built; all he needed to do was fasten the body together and put in the engine. I was to assemble the body from the plans he had drawn up, and he was to go look for an engine. He told me to use the old pile of kindling that was in his barn to make the body; for the wheels, he told me use the wheels from his old wagon, which would also provide a steering handle. Then he left to find the engine.
A little later, when I was building the chassis, I heard a deafening boom from behind the barn and I immediately darted to where it came from. As it turned out, Eddie had shot off one of his leftover Fourth-of-July rockets; he was planning on using them for the engine.
“Is it safe?” I naively asked him, forgetting that he was an auto-mechanics expert.
“Of course it is, silly. If it wasn’t, would I be testing the thing out myself? Boy, I can’t wait to feel the wind in my face and have Jaime Peterson swoon over my expert driving ability. Too bad you can’t test drive it with me—“
“Oh, but can’t I?” I blurted.
“Well, okay. If you insist,” he said, already pointing to the rockets he hadn’t picked up. I gathered the rest of them and followed him back to the construction site. We finished assembling the car (which consisted of a built-from-scratch chassis and dual bucket seats) and attached the rockets to the back (we could only attach about twenty); we tied the fuses together so we could light them all at the same time. Then Eddie said,”Now to test it.”
“But where?” I asked.
“Out by the Ferguson place. It’s the only road smooth enough to drive it on.”
When we got to the road, I climbed into the driver’s seat and waited for Eddie to light the fuses. The Fergusons’ cows were crowding their fence, staring at us.
“Here we go,” he said, striking a match and running around to get into the passenger’s seat. When I heard the sizzling fuses, I remembered something and my heart jumped into my throat.
“Eddie,” I said,”how do we stop?” As soon as I said that, the car lunged forward and we were off. The countryside was whizzing by at light speed and I was maintaining perfect control of the car—everything was working wonderfully. It was a great drive, except my left side hurt and there were flies buzzing about my head.
I looked around and saw Eddie lying near me and the Fergusons’ cows escaping over a nearby hill. There was a stream of burnt wood chips and a set of wheels scattered in the grass between the roadside fence and me. Eddie got up after a while and we left the pasture, trudging back to his house and carting all of the pieces of the rocket-car in the still-intact chassis. We returned the pile of kindling to its place in Eddie’s barn.
We recovered fully. In fact, the only lasting ill-effect was that for weeks no one ever saw the Fergusons’ cows anywhere near their fence. We used to laugh about it while we searched for them on our safaris.
Based upon “My Madcap Adventures with Eddie Muldoon” by Patrick P. McManus. This story was intended to be a sequel to one of Mr. McManus’ many short stories about his childhood. My Madcap Adventures was the first one I read, and if you get a chance, track it down and read it.