Well…as Penny and Alba were
rummaging around in the garage,
they came across an old soap box
racer buried beneath some sheets at the
back. It was called a soap box racer because
the body of the cart was made from a
wooden crate that was used to transport
soap to stores. Today most boxes are made
from cardboard but people still call that type of
racer the same name. One of the wheels was
missing and the paint was peeling off. But there
was still magic in this broken down wooden
crate. It was painted a bright red with orange
flames streaking down the side and it looked
radical. But it was the steering wheel that made
it fascinating to the girls. Penny and Alba got to
ride things with handle bars, but a steering
wheel-now that had a powerful attraction!
Uncle Harold walked into the garage at that
moment and said that Penny and Alba’s
father had been pretty proud of that soap
“It wasn’t nearly as fast as mine but it still
could fly down the hill” he boasted. “It’s too
bad that it doesn’t work any longer because
there’s the annual Soap Box Derby in
Centreville Park in two weeks and the grand prize is sodas
for the entire family at Gramps’ Restaurant. That race was
like magic to me when I was kid” Uncle Harold reported
The girls took a look at each other and they were
“Can you imagine anything cooler than riding in the big
race?” exclaimed Penny.
“And winning sodas at Gramps’?” added Alba.
Before the afternoon was finished, one entry form was
purchased for the big race and the girls were busy
planning the race car of the century.
The girls worked feverishly trying to put an old doll
carriage wheel on the box cart but it kept falling off,
causing the racer to veer to the right and crash into the
old tree on the side of the driveway. Mr. McCutcheon was
sitting in the kitchen and heard the girls’ whoops of
laughter. Since he couldn’t get Uncle Harold to tell him
anything about what was going on, he walked out to the
driveway to see for himself what all the excitement was
about. Uncle Harold followed behind with a mischievous
twinkle in his eye.
“I didn’t want you to feel badly about me whupping you
when we were kids so I didn’t tell you what the girls
were up to” said Uncle Harold.
“You whupped me?” replied Mr. McCutcheon
incredulously. “I guess your age hasn’t helped your
memory at all.”
The girls had no idea what they were talking about and
kept on with the mechanical task of trying to get the
wheel to stay on. An hour later, however, tired and
disheveled, the two girls came into the living room
defeated. They had tried everything but couldn’t solve the
problem of keeping the wheel on and stopping the cart
from veering to the right. This was the moment that Uncle
Harold had been waiting for and he asked if he could be of
any service. All along he had wanted the girls to invite him
to join in the soap box derby entry. But before the girls
could answer, Mr. McCutcheon interrupted,
“That’s OK, Harold. The girls and I won’t need your help.
I can get this thing to fly just like it did when we were kids.”
“Oh yeah!! ” shot back Uncle Harold. “As I recall yours
didn’t even finish the race.”
“Well at least I didn’t cheat” snarled Mr. McCutcheon.
“Cheat! Well it wasn’t me who cheated!”
The girls looked at each other in disbelief. What had
started this fight? Before they could ask Mrs.
McCutcheon and Aunt Helen, Uncle Harold had
challenged Mr. McCutcheon to create the fastest
soapbox in town and the winner would not only get to
race in the soap box derby but would also get the
McCutcheon trophy for the fastest person in the family.
Aunt Helen groaned as she overheard the last part of
the argument, for she knew that this race might open up
some old wounds caused by another race twenty years
earlier. Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon had raced in
the same competition. They both had lost and each of
them blamed the other for their misfortune. Like spoiled
children, they had kept up a grudge for almost five
years. As adults, the two men had become the best of
friends and Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon were
worried that the race might lead to a new war. They
told the girls that a young man named “Pudge” Stevens
had won the race in a cart built by the mechanics at his
dad’s car dealership. It didn’t seem fair that Pudge won the
prize when he didn’t even make the car himself.
Regardless, neither Uncle Harold nor Mr. McCutcheon
even got to the finish line before their carts fell apart, so it
was hardly right for them to feel bitter about losing to a
Days went by as Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon
worked feverishly in their separate garages collecting
old parts from wagons and bikes and carefully designing
the most aerodynamic body for their racer. Penny and
Alba volunteered to help and at first were able to
contribute a little to the construction. After a while,
however, the contest became so competitive that the
girls were only allowed to watch. Even with the
scolding of Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon, the men
fiercely built their racers and became more and more
secretive and obsessed with winning.
In their single-minded pursuit of creating the best cart,
neither of the men had remembered to get an entry form
and the only one available was the one that Penny and
Alba had gotten for themselves.
“Well you won’t be able to call me a spoiled brat,” Mr.
McCutcheon taunted Uncle Harold as they realized they
didn’t have two entry forms. “We’ll face off the day
before the race and the winner gets the entry form.”
“You’ll be eating my dust” sputtered Uncle Harold.
Penny and Alba looked on in shock.
“I thought it was our entry form” Alba told Penny.
“Well I’m certainly not to going to jump into this mess right
now” replied Penny. “These guys may be acting like spoiled
brats but they are our father and uncle. I don’t think we can
And Alba knew that Penny was right. Without going to
Mrs. McCutcheon and Aunt Helen, their only option was
to sit and wait.
On the day before the big race, the two men carefully,
separately and secretively loaded their racing carts into
the back of the McCutcheon station wagon and Uncle
Harold’s truck and drove to Daredevil Hill where the
race would take place. With Penny and Alba now
relegated to bystander and unenthusiastic starter
positions, the two men got into their racers and sped off
down the hill, round the first bend, neck and neck. Past
the fountain and over the footbridge the two racers flew,
gaining speed down the gravel path to the finish line.
One more turn and glory along with bragging rights
would await the fastest racer. And were it not for one
pot hole in the race course and one protruding root from
an ancient oak tree, the two oversized racers might have
made it uneventfully to the finish line. As Penny and
Alba ran down the steep embankment of the hill,
however, they saw Uncle Harold lose control of his cart
and start careening towards a baby carriage that was
sitting peacefully beside the park’s set of swings. Then a
wheel from Mr. McCutcheon’s cart went flying into the
air, causing him to lose control of his steering wheel and
head straight for Uncle Harold’s cart.
Penny dove at the baby carriage and pushed the baby to
safety just as what was left of the two race carts and
their drivers went tearing through the playground,
barely missing the swings and the children with their
mothers and fathers . Coming up the slope to Gardner’s
Pond, the carts went shooting across the walking path,
narrowly missing joggers and elderly people enjoying a
quiet stroll through the gardens. With a final triumphant
leap, the two racers went flying through the air and
came down with a tremendous splash in the lily pads at
the shallow, muddy end of the pond. Dozens of residents
crowded over to the edge of the water to see if the two
men were all right but also to see who could have been so
irresponsible as to jeopardize the safety of so many
Penny and Alba were able to ensure that the baby was OK
and explained to the baby’s mother that their father and
uncle usually weren’t this insensitive. They both thought that
the mother was far more understanding than either Mrs.
McCutcheon or Aunt Helen were likely to be.
Uncle Harold had landed in a heap on Mr. McCutcheon
and they slowly untangled themselves from each other
and from the debris they left behind. Mr. McCutcheon
pulled a lily pad out of his shirt and then rubbed the
mud and water from his face and clothes. With scrapes
and bruises, the two embarrassed men slowly lifted their
broken racers out of the water into Uncle Harold’s
truck and cleaned up the mess they had left by the pond.
Sheepishly they apologized to the people whom they
had upset and headed off for home feeling very foolish.
The McCutcheon household was rather quiet that night
after a large number of “I told you so’s” from both
Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon. It was going to be a
long time before either man would dare mention this event
Out in the garage, though, Penny and Alba had a better
idea. They were busy putting together one racer from
the left over parts of the two. Though they hadn’t been
allowed to touch either of the first racers, they took full
control of the broken remains and were able to figure out
how the parts went together. Here was a chance for them
to pool the resources of the two families and to have some
fun instead of taking the competition deadly seriously.
The next morning, Penny and Alba announced to their
parents that they were going to enter the race as they
proudly pulled an old paint sheet off their own racing cart.
Aunt Helen and Mrs. McCutcheon were delighted and they
made sure that both Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon
helped the girls with the finishing touches without getting in
their way. With great pride, the two girls lifted the cart into
the station wagon and the entire family headed off once
again to Daredevil Hill and the All-Centreville Soapbox
The girls climbed into the cart together, strapped on
their helmets and threw their thumbs up in the air to
show that they were ready. When the starter shot her
pistol, they pushed off down the hill with the fifteen
other contestants. Shrieks of delight and screams of fear
filled the air that afternoon and the girls couldn’t stop
laughing as their cart ground to a halt just past the finish
line and just before the edge of Gardner’s Pond. They
weren’t the first and they weren’t the last when they
finished but they probably had the most fun of all the
racers and they did it together, a great sister team.
The winner, Pudge Stevens Jr. got his picture taken for
the local paper beside a souped up racer that his dad
had obviously made. Mr. McCutcheon and Uncle
Harold grumbled that it wasn’t fair that an adult had
made his cart and Mrs. McCutcheon glanced at Aunt
Helen with a look that said “Will these guys ever grow
As the family headed off towards the car, Aunt Helen
looked at the two girls and said “You certainly have
shown some people who the real champions in this
Uncle Harold and Mr. McCutcheon lowered their
heads, trying to be as invisible as possible.
Mrs. McCutcheon turned the car into the parking lot of
Gramps’ Restaurant and announced that Uncle Harold and
Mr. McCutcheon would be delighted to order the whole
family Gramps’ famous Mountain o’ Stuff with 6 spoons. If
your sundae had twelve scoops of ice cream, jujubes, jelly
beans, marshmallows, whipped cream, cherries, sprinkles
with chocolate, strawberry and caramel sauce over two
bananas, you’d call it Mountain o’ Stuff as well. Yum!!!!
It was a week later that the two girls got home from
school and found the biggest, shiniest trophy they had
It read, “Penny and Alba. You are not only champions of
the family, but you taught us all a lesson about sharing.”
Engraved at the bottom of the plaque it said “With love
from Mom and Aunt Helen.”
Penny and Alba loved the trophy almost as much as the
Mountain o’ Stuff, but they knew that this would not be
the last time that Mr. McCutcheon and Uncle Harold
would compete to be the fastest and the best. They just
hoped that each time they tried, the competition would
be a little friendlier and that Penny and Alba would get
to go to Gramps’ for sundaes.