Its old body fixed, toy wagon is ready to roll once more

SATURDAY'S HERO

April 30, 1994|By ROB KASPER

The kids have supposedly "outgrown" the wagon, but I fixed it anyway. I couldn't throw it away. That wagon has carried too many kids and memories.

So I tracked down the headquarters of the wagon maker (little tikes, Hudson, Ohio, [800] 321-0183), called them up, had them ship $5 worth of wagon parts to my home.

As I hammered the replacement parts into place, I remembered the night 12 years ago when I put the wagon together. It was Christmas Eve, the wagon was going to be the "big" present for our "little guy." Now this guy is 13, can't even fit in the wagon and prefers to travel around on a skateboard. But back then, the wagon was bigger than he was.

I had waited until late Christmas Eve to put the thing together. This was a mistake. I discovered that instead of quietly snapping a few parts into place, putting the wagon together required some no-nonsense hammering. The locking devices, or cap nuts, which held the wagon wheels on the axle, had to be held against a strong surface and pounded into place.

I got this insight while I was sitting in the middle of the living room, a room that did not have a lot of poundable surfaces. I considered banging the wagon wheels against the polished wood floors. But I knew that the pounding would leave a nasty scar, both on the living room and on the marriage.

Instead I used a book that has served as both an agreeable friend and carping opponent, a dictionary. I put the dictionary on the floor, under the cap nuts and wheels, and delivered a few firm blows with a hammer. The cap nuts held.

Christmas morning dawned, and the wagon was a terrific hit with the kid. Nonetheless, I worried about the grip the cap nuts had on the wheels. That is what rookie parents do well, they worry excessively. For a while, whenever I took the kid for a wagon ride, I would examine the wheels to make sure the cap nuts were holding.

Later, when the kid was big enough to drive the wagon himself, I would repeatedly holler: "Be careful."

Left unchecked, such ceaseless parental vigilance would have driven everyone crazy. But nature intervened. And by the time our second kid was riding in the wagon, I had become a seasoned parent. I was too tired to nag.

Kids wanted to ride in that wagon. When it rolled into the neighborhood playground, a swarm of kids would gather around it, like teen-agers fawning over a new convertible. Toddlers would pull it around. Older kids would beg for rides. Left unattended, the wagon would quickly appear in a field carrying a load of whooping riders.

Sometimes the pace of these rides would be too fast, and the wagon would flip over. But the grass was soft and the wagon was primarily plastic. Usually the only thing injured was pride. The wagon riders learned not to speed, at least not when parents were watching.

Once, out in the alley, I pushed the wagon down a hill and the wagon flipped over, hurting the shoulder of my younger son. The kid had been reluctant to go down the slope. But I had dismissed his complaints, and sent him and his wagon propelling down the alley. The wagon caught a wheel on a crack in the pavement, flipped, and sent the kid skidding across the pavement. The kid learned a lesson: Sometimes his judgment was better than his father's. Years later, the kid still reminds me of that mistake.

Giving all those rough rides had taken its toll on the wagon. A side panel that used to fold down just fell off one day. Somehow the front axle got bent. After that the wagon's reputation around the neighborhood as a speed merchant faded. For a few months it was a pack mule, hauling our groceries into the house, and our stacks of newspapers out to the alley. But then its handle snapped and its work as a freight hauler fell dramatically. For a time it seemed like the old wagon might face the urban equivalent of being put out to pasture. Namely, it would be rolled out to the alley and left for trash pickers.

But then the replacement parts arrived, and the wagon got new life. The second kid and I took the wagon and new parts out to the back yard, where there were plenty of poundable surfaces, and went to work. Soon the old yellow wagon was up and running, just in time for summer.

The kid took the wagon out in the alley for a test drive. I didn't give him a push, or warn him to "Be careful." This time, all I said was, "Don't hit my car."

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