Ready to roll: Preparations underway for first Hansville Coaster Games

HANSVILLE — Equipped with a motocross helmet and a homemade tricycle, Chuck Strahm has been reliving childhood memories.

Strahm grew up at the bottom of a hill in Southern California. Entertainment was seeing what would roll down it the fastest.

“We were always doing stuff we could get all scraped up on,” he said.

So when Strahm was mulling for ideas for a kid-friendly event for the Greater Hansville Community Center to sponsor this summer, his train of thought naturally pointed downhill. He thought about hosting a Soap Box Derby event, until he saw the long list of requirements.

“I thought we needed to start from scratch,” said Strahm, who serves as vice president of the Community Center board. “We need to go back to the things my generation did as kids, nail some things together from scratch and call it a coaster car.”

The first ever Hansville Coaster Games will take to the track Aug. 28, with a menagerie of homemade race cars and drivers aged 6 to 65. Strahm is organizing the event and encouraging coaster car inventors to get building early this summer.

He and fellow Community Center board members hope the games will help engage younger families, in a town where retirees dominate community events.

“We’d like to get them a lot more involved,” Community Center President Fred Nelson said.

The rules for the Coaster Games are relatively simple.

Cars must have at least three wheels that are at least 10 inches and diameter and a working brake – feet dragging doesn’t count. There are rough size requirements as well (see box for more) but Strahm was careful to leave room for creativity. Cars can be made of any material, as long as they’re safe to roll.

The races will be run down a hill on Benchmark Avenue, a little-used road in the undeveloped Sterling Heights neighborhood off Twins Spits Road. The county has already agreed to close the road for the day. Racers will roll down a steep incline through a sweeping turn and flows into a long, flat straightaway to the finish line. Organizers will award prizes based on times and style.

Strahm, who retired from a long career as a quality control specialist in the automotive industry, has brought to style his own series of coaster car creations.

He combed Goodwill stores and wrecking yards and his own backyard for parts, and his workshop on Skunk Bay is a breeding ground for rolling contraptions.

Inside, lawnmower wheels mingle with classic car parts and old bicycle frames. A plywood workbench holds “T-wrecks,” a half finished wooden cruiser shaped like a dinosaur head. Strahm’s fastest coaster is a tricycle he made with a Panasonic bicycle frame and a pair of decades-old Soap Box wheels.

Outside his shop a pink bathtub fitted with a bucket seat leans uneasily on a set of wagon wheels.

“The bathtub is a work in progress,” Strahm said.

Not far away, Hansville resident Dennis Kommer and his 14-year-old son Kellan are fabricating their cars out of scraps Kommer has accumulated from his metal recycling business.

Kommer’s car will incorporate two or three bicycles, and some aluminum racking he picked up at a Bainbridge industrial park.

Kommer will also be towing coaster cars up the hill with a golf cart on raceday. He said the uniqueness of the Coaster Games inspired him to get involved.

“It’s something different,” he said. “I like unusual things, something no one else is doing.”

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