H. Neal Glanville: Land-speed record goes airborne

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H. Neal Glanville

My brothers and I were obsessed with speed.

We rebuilt every bike we were ever given, and some that were “borrowed” we used for pieces and parts.

We went as far as going through our father’s books on aeronautical engineering, learning about lift, drag and vortexes.

Once, we even “borrowed” our stepsister’s bike, secured a frame around the rear wheel, and attached a wing to her banana seat.

Memory fails me if the wing was for lift or downward pressure to keep us stable during our land-speed record down Butler Hill.

In any case, after several test runs on smaller hills, we were ready for the big day.

Now as brothers will do, a slight case of fisticuffs broke out as to who was going to be the “banana wing” pilot.

I won that privilege, though Scott the jackrabbit became co-pilot when we realized the wing was a little floppy in the center. So, he became the butt that held the wing down. Kris, the toughest kid in all of Butler, Utah, history, was given the honor of riding the bike down our road to the top of Butler Hill.

As we walked the mile or so to the top of the hill, Kris announced to all who appeared that his older brother was going to fly down Butler Hill and make history.

I must mention here that no one had ever ridden a bike up the hill non-stop. But, more importantly, no one had ever gone off the top straight down without the brakes, coaster or lever, under constant pressure.

As I steadied the bike so our wing-holder downer could swing aboard, I looked at our two escape points in case an error in judgment should occur, and pushed off.

We started gathering speed much faster than we’d planned, but I still kept my foot off the brake, even as we flew by the first escape route.

I could feel my cheeks starting to flap in the wind just as Scott, the butt that held the wing down, wrapped both his arms around me screaming, “We’re all going to die.” At that point, he decided, even though our cheeks were flapping like socks on the clothes line, he was getting off.

I pointed the bike to the front yard of our second escape route and started applying the rear coaster brake. My plan had been to cut across the driveway and power slide the bike to a stop on their front lawn.

I had not planned on missing the driveway and instead flew over their two-foot rock wall, where the wing the butt was holding down did its job, offering us a 20- or 30-foot glide across the yard before crashing into the freshly mowed weed patch.

When I came to, I was covered with tumbleweed thorns and weed rash. Scott was 10 or so feet away in just about the same condition, but rolled into the fetal position.

It took a while, but the two of us came to our senses and started to pick up what was left of our stepsister’s bike.

“You flew, you guys really flew,” Kris said, running into the yard gathering parts as he came.

“You almost killed me,” Scott said over and over.

“Yeah, but look how far you flew,” Kris said, laughing each time Scott whined.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s probably that coaster brakes don’t work when you’re airborne.

Hey, you be careful out there, and stay to the light.

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