Escanaba’s rich go-cart history

AP photo With one big wheel and one small one this cart is ready to hit the road. Pushers are Mark and Jim Rose. Drivers are Karen, Mike Lori and cousin Ken Eubank.

ESCANABA — Every time I see an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) zoom down the alley or across the field, I think of the hot rods of yesterday.

Kids had wheels when I was young, too. We raced down paths, churned up mud and saw just how far we could go.

The only difference was the vehicles of my day didn’t have motors.

Muscle power, not gasoline, made them go.

We called them go-carts. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, the Northtown kids built some of the finest go-carts that ever burned rubber!

Cart construction began in the spring. My brother Mark was the engineer. The first step was to raid the garage and the basement. Any stray-looking piece of wood, nails, nuts, bolts, and screws were confiscated.

Dad’s tools would disappear off his work bench. For the next few days, our garage would echo with pounding.

Finally, Mark rolled her down the driveway, like a new sports car on exhibit. Then he’d take turns giving everyone rides.

Perhaps creating something out of nothing is a dying art these days. I’d like to see today’s young people take the initiative to make something out of a pile of junk with no instructions to go by and no adult help.

Good wheels were prize possessions of any go-cart owner. Wheels were the hardest to come by.

Most go-carts of Northtown were free. That’s why every family had one. All of the parts were cast-off parts from Dad’s collection, borrowed parts from a neighbor or recycled goodies from the scrap yard.

As much as Dad mumbled and grumbled about his missing tools and Mark’s messy cart parts all over the garage, he’s still take Mark on an occasional dump run.

At the old city dump (old fashioned open pit), real treasures were found. A cart was only as good as its axles, and strong axles were often found at the dump.

Wheels disappeared off of old lawnmowers and baby buggies to be used for go-cart tires.

Mark recalls the finest pair of wheels he ever owned. They had ball bearings!

Go-carts were built for speed, but many were painted Harnischfeger yellow. Stickers were important. Mark would bum STP stickers from Ralph Frasher at his gas station. They were the ultimate fad. Carts needed them.

Mark was the mechanic. My skinny, little brother, Mike was the designated driver. A lightweight younger brother came in handy back in the days of push carts.

Part of the reason why carts were so popular when I was young was because of the popularity of stock car racing in Escanaba back then.

When the boys would race their carts, they would become their stock car heroes, like Iverson, Richer and Gardner.

The Northtown gang would hold its go-cart races in the old cement Webster wading pool. Dozens of kids would turn out on Friday nights to compete.

It cost a quarter to enter the race. If the pusher was long-legged and strong and if the driver steered clear and if the axle didn’t break and the wheel fall off, it could mean a big victory.

Modern day ATVs might be very popular with the youngsters, but they will never match the ingenuity, skill exercise and teamwork of the good old-fashioned go-cart.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.