A cold, windy, and soggy day did not deter the stalwart team of Friends School kinetinauts who braved the elements, stiff competition from almost 30 other teams, and a few engineering challenges to not only compete in but conquer the 19th Annual Kinetic Sculpture Race hosted by the American Visionary Arts Museum. The story really begins last spring when our team’s entry “Wasn’t Built in a Day” failed to make it to the water and mud features when the Roman chariot we had designed and built collapsed in front of the Baltimore Aquarium. That setback put our team on a renewed and more dedicated path to build a structure that could complete the course this year. Many Sunday afternoons throughout the fall and winter, Pace Schwarz, Carter Ruffin, Mr. Field (dad of Lucretia ’16), and I spent sketching, prototyping, researching, and consulting Mr. Field’s 1950s-era textbook on Linear Algebra. We settled on a design (seen in these photos), that would be both street-worthy and able to handle the mud, sand, and water. With a team of artists and painters on Earth Day putting the finishing touches on the two iconic Quaker Oats cans which doubled as our pontoons, our sculpture showed a lot of Quaker pride and conformed to the race’s theme “Food.” On race day, we welcomed the heroic return of Lucretia Field, fresh off her first year at Northeastern, who, with her mom, added the oat field and sock creature scarecrow and the breakfast table of oatmeal and coffee, and baked a batch of fresh oatmeal cookies with which to bribe the judges (an accepted and expected part of the Kinetic Race subculture). Mrs. McManus carried those cookies all day and did a wonderful job “greasing” the judges and Kinetic Kops to earn favors and avoid tickets.
Our race began successfully and we navigated the loop around Federal Hill and the cross country course around the Inner Harbor, passing other teams and only having to stop to remount our barrels a few times. The cobblestone circle of Harbor East gave our sculpture some trouble and knocked one of our rear wheels out of alignment, forcing Pace to dismount and run/push along for the last 2 miles before the water station. The launch into the Inner Harbor requires the team to navigate around the Canton pier and the crowd was entertained by our near-capsizing due to the fore and aft oscillation. A few mouthfuls of Inner Harbor water later, Pace and Carter changed into dry clothes (and refueled with a soft serve ice cream cone), and we were off to Patterson Park and the sand and mud elements. The sand pit proved no match for our hearty kinetinauts now brimming with confidence and they cruised easily through that challenge. Only one element remained: the mud—a 30 yard long, 10 foot wide slurry of thick mud and grime on an incline. At this point, Nick De Vinne jumped on to provide fresh legs (and since Pace had to leave soon for play practice) and Carter and I provided rear thrust. Pace and Nick gave Oatmeals on Wheels a 40 yard “running start” and, despite Carter losing a shoe in the mud, we conquered the mud monster!
The last leg of the race was a steady downhill course from the Patterson Park pagoda, down Lombard Street, and back to the AVAM finish line. Rolling through neighborhoods, many of which held impromptu block parties to cheer on the race, was a victory lap of sorts for our team. Nick and Carter crossed the tape, muddy, tired, but in tact and brimming with confidence/relief about six hours after launching from that spot earlier that morning.
Special note: Carter raced the entire day with his Blammo spoon! After 2 unsuccessful campaigns in previous years, we took a huge step forward for Kinetic Sculpture Club and now know what it takes to reach the summit. Icing on the cake: at the award ceremony, our team was awarded the Judges Fill-in-the-Blank Award, given to the team the judges deem worthy of some award (see photo). The Grand Mediocre Prize, the most coveted award, is given to the team that finishes smack dab in the middle. In a true illustration of the old bromide that much of life is “simply showing up” we were awarded the trophy when the first team that the judges wanted to give it to, did not even stay for the ceremony! Our Quaker pride impressed the judges, one of whom attended Earlham College and whenever he saw us throughout the race, chanted the Earlham College fight song: “Fight, fight, inner light! Kill, Quakers, kill! Beat ’em, kick ’em, knock ’em senseless! Do we really have consensus?” He liked our cookies too.
Kinetic Sculpture Club will begin planning for next year—the 20th Annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. New members are welcome!