Part of my journey in trucking has been using aerodynamics to increase my bottom line of profitability. As I thought about this, my relationship with aerodynamics goes clear back to childhood to the age of approximately six years old.
My early childhood in Gulph Mills, PA, is where I had some of my first experiences using aerodynamic principles to my benefit. In the winter of 1969, all of us children would sled on the street in our subdivision named Philadelphia Avenue. It became readily apparent to me that if I laid down on the sled and steered with my hands, I went much faster than the other children on the same hill. To be the quickest child down the hill, it was necessary to use every advantage that could be found due to my being the lightest kid on the block.
In addition to aerodynamics, I also used a measuring stick to make sure my runners were perfectly aligned. The final item, which greased the skids to victory, was rubbing down the runners of my sled with candle wax bars.
The next summer, the children in the neighborhood began to conjure up and assemble what was referred to as go-karts. These go-karts, as they were called, where non-powered. The go-karts developed into personal expression and typically used old push mower wheels. Some of these grew into units that had a roof, shag carpeting, old lunch boxes as trunks, and one of the most sought after were wheels from a high wheel mower which made it appear to have large racing wheels on the back. The children would race them down the hill and I decided I needed to build my own.
Of course, I had a need for speed, so I set off to design what would be my go-kart. I took what I had learned from sledding down this same road and applied it to my go-kart. The design was simple a 2 X 8 piece of wood with a 2 X 4 attached to each end for axles. The front 2 X 4 had a bolt that went through it and through the 2 X 8 piece of wood for steering. The rear was attached solidly to the 2 X 8, along with two struts attached at a 45-degree angle from the axle to the main 2 X 8 runner. This part of my construction was fairly traditional for what was used on the hill. The other children used large nails pounded into the 2 X 4 through the lawnmower wheels to complete their axle setup.
This is where I separated myself from the competition. I asked my parents if I could have the axles from underneath my old baby stroller. After receiving permission, I detached the axles and wheels from my old baby stroller. The tires were white rubber, and the wheels were chrome spoked wheels with ball bearings. I attached these axles and wheels carefully underneath the 2 X 4 supports and made sure everything was lined up as best as possible.
The final difference between my go-kart and everyone else’s was that I steered from a prone position instead of sitting upright. My go-kart lacked many of the luxuries that others found necessary, and I flew down the street like superman. In the end, the only way anyone would race me is if I used the bumpy sidewalk. Even still, I got to the bottom of the hill first.
Later on, I got a Schwinn 5-speed stingray bicycle for my 7th birthday. I was so proud of this bicycle. It had glossy black paint, a gleaming silver metallic banana seat complete, a sissy bar and high-rise handlebars. I was styling and profiling when us kids raced on Burniston Road at my parents’ new home in Glenmore, PA.
Early on I was able to be the fastest one down the hill. However, I was disappointed that some of the kids that were a few years older than me were with their ten-speed laydown wrapped under handlebars. With this position, most of their body was down and under the airflow. Meanwhile, I was sitting up with my high-rise handlebars, just bucking the wind while my t-shirt flapped in the breeze like a parachute.
During those times no one was riding down the hill, I would try some new techniques. The first experiment was to hold the handlebars down low next to the gooseneck, which did not give me much steering control but did get my body tucked down out of the air. While I was much faster, my hands did not have much leverage in this steering position. But I still was not fast enough. Next, I decided that after I got past my pedaling speed, I would shift my body to lie flat on the banana seat with my feet stuck straight out the back. This greatly reduced my resistance to the air and greatly increased my speed, although it was hard to control the bicycle from this position.
With this new information, I challenged one of my older peers to race down Barniston Hill with a large bet of five dollars which I had received from my grandparents for my birthday. The bet was accepted by the older child as he thought for sure it would be easy money. With a great deal of confidence from my newly discovered aerodynamic advantage, we set off sailing down the hill. My older friend took a commanding early lead until I had gotten to a speed faster than I could peddle and I switched to my aerodynamic superman position. Little by little I continued to gain on him until finally, I went whizzing by him, ultimately winning the race.
As I was coasting out in victory, I rounded a corner on the road only to discover they had freshly graveled the road. When I hit the freshly dropped deep gravel, I lost control of the steering, and the bike started going violently from one side to the other until I flipped over. The handlebars impacted my mouth, knocked out a tooth, shattered my jaw, and I got a concussion. This led to a trip to the ER and many years of visiting the orthodontist. But I did win the race…
To this day, in everything from when I race cars, driving snowmobiles, or in a truck, I have found ways to use aerodynamics to be more profitable or win the race albeit under more control than my bicycle experience.