Mneighborhood was located about 1 mile from
the town of Farmingdale it was tucked off a busy two-lane road; Melville Road.
The opposite side of Melville Road, from my neighborhood, was lined by a wall
of trees and undergrowth. Beyond that wall of trees and undergrowth hid the
Bethpage golf course. The golf course was encircled by a bridle path. (A bridle
path is a dirt road restricted for the use of horses only.)
The golf course and bridle path provided many hours of boyhood
adventure and mischief, but that's a story for another time.
the Melville Road was a garden shop called the "City of Glass" (CoG). The
grounds owned by the "CoG" took up acres of land with rows of glass houses
behind the main retail store. Behind the glass houses was a hill with a path
leading into the woods and then a clearing for one of the power line towers and
the golf course. This pathway also gave us access to the grounds of the SUNY
(State University of New York) Farmingdale, back then it was known by as the
State Institute of Applied Agriculture. To us locals we knew it simply as
Today we were headed to the power lines behind the "City of
Glass". Like power lines everywhere they were paralleled by a restricted access
service road (dirt road) which went on for miles following the path of the
power line towers. We thought at the time you could actually travel the length
of Long Island itself on the service road. (In actuality it wasn't possible.
But in 1960, "Google Earth" and the internet hadn't been invented; so there was
no way except by actual exploration to confirm this idea.)
was simple we would top off the mini's fuel tank, check the air pressure in the
tires and then push the mini to the grounds of the "CoG" about a ½ mile
from my driveway. Once we got to the "CoG" we would slip into the back and fire
up the mini and one of us would ride it up the hill through the woods to the
top. The other one would follow on foot; scrambling up the hill trying to keep
up. Once we were at the top, we made our way one through the woods one riding
and one walking toward the power lines.
The power line towers were
huge things standing hundreds of feet tall; they carried about a dozen
electrical power lines which went to different parts of the island. Each tower
sat on its own little man made mountain; a hill about 50 feet high. The service
road not only paralleled the towers but it branched off and would go up one
side of the little mountain and down the other connecting each tower with the
The service road was hard packed dirt, in some places it
was mud and in others it was submerged under seasonal ponds of stagnate dirty
water. Some of these seasonal ponds blocked road passage completely and for the
biggest ponds there were paths cut through the brush leading around them.
There were some places that the little mountains had sheer faces and
the service road only went up on one side. Unfortunately for us the first tower
we came across had one of these sheer faces on its back side. There was a small
path leading straight down the sheer face back to the service road but it
required some tricky navigation and great reduction in speed to make the turn
onto the path and avoid a collision with tower leg.
We walked 'n' rode
the service road to a point somewhere in the middle of 4 towers. This would be
our waiting spot and pit area.. Since I had ridden the mini up the hill and
through the woods to our starting point; I let Kenny have the first ride.
Kenny took the controls and gunned the little engine for all it was
worth, the mini dug in and launched forward. As soon as he sensed movement
Kenny's feet were on the foot pegs and he got into our patented aerodynamic
racing crouch and was off in a cloud of dust, exhaust smoke and noise.
He headed up the next little mountain in front of
us and then down it's back side. He followed the road to where it skirted
around the next little mountain and he came out the back side heading back
Kenny flew past me at near the speed of light; he was on
his way to breaking the Popular Mechanics Home Built in Your Garage Minibike
Land Speed Record. He didn't lose any speed as he and the mini climbed the next
little mountain. He was almost out of sight when he crested the top of the last
little mountain. I could track his progress when he was out of sight by the
mini's exhaust note echoing off the trees. The mini's exhaust pipe was a ten
inch long section of 3/4 pipe screwed into the engine's head. The exhaust note
was loud when the engine was running wide open.
He came back into view
on the top of the next little mountain, the last one between Kenny and our
starting point. This was the one with the sheer face; he had to slow down to
turn onto the foot path.
Kenny crested the hill; he and the mini were
traveling too fast to change direction. I couldn't see any movement by him to
slow the mini down with its brake. If he didn't slow down he wouldn't be able
to turn in time to take the foot path and was sure to hit the tower leg. Before
I could think any more about the mistake he just made, Kenny and the mini
launched into the air. This was the only other option left besides crashing
into the tower leg. They were now airborne.
Kenny had ridden the mini
into the airspace beyond the sheer face; he was now where only birds were
supposed to be
I wasn't sure at first if he had planned this or not
Kenny was always capable of taking things to the next level; after all he was
Kenny's nickname the "Moose" was well deserved. He
didn't' get it because he was the biggest kid in the neighborhood actually he
was the shortest and smallest. But from the first day he moved into the hood
and joined up with us, he earned that name. We played a version of foot ball
for three. One of us would receive the ball and then try to get past the other
two to score a goal. It was almost impossible to score, because our playing
field was narrow and short and easily defended. But Kenny proved to be almost
unstoppable. For such a small guy he had the power and determination of a bull
moose and scored on more than one occasion.
He and the mini were now
in a perfect arc, it looked as though he planned to jump clear of the face; it
was definitely the kind of move that only Evel Knievel would do
Evel Knievel born Robert Craig Knievel was an American
daredevil, painter, entertainer, and international icon. In his career he
attempted over 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps between 1965 and 1980, and in
1974, a failed jump across Snake River Canyon in the Skycycle X-2, a
steam-powered rocket. The over 433 broken bones he suffered during his career
earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of
"most bones broken in a lifetime". Knievel died of pulmonary disease in
Clearwater, Florida, aged 69. According to the British paper The Times writing
his obituary, Knievel was one of the greatest American icons of the 1970s.
Knievel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
stood there, staring at Kenny in the air, admiring his bravado and skill, until
he and the mini began to rotate. Slowly the mini and Kenny began to rotate
pitching, front wheel down
When you watch crashes in real life
everything happens in slow motion. Kenny and the mini were rotating and falling
at the same time, actually the rotating part was happening a little quicker
than the falling. The mini's front wheel was the first thing to touch the
ground; three quarters of the way down the sheer face.
It didn't roll,
it just impacted the ground, the mini and Kenny just froze there like a
ballerina standing on her toes, they just hung in the air. When time began
again and the rest of the mini continued on its course following its front
wheel trying to bury itself into the ground.
As soon as time began
after the ballerina pause; with the minibike trying to burro into the ground
Kenny was immediately ejected from the mini's back. He was still in his high
speed riding crouch but now without minibike under him, he was pretend riding
through the air. His high speed riding crouch didn't come apart until he made
contact with the ground. Some ten feet from the ground zero Kenny planted his
face into the terra firma. Momentum of the crash piled Kenny's body up on the
backside of his face, just as the mini piled up on its front wheel.
Craig Breedlove (born March 23, 1937) is an American
professional race car driver and a five-time world land speed record holder. He
was the first person in history to reach 400 mph (640 km/h), 500 mph (800
km/h), and 600 mph (970 km/h), using several turbojet-powered vehicles, all
named Spirit of America.
Both of them now tumbled the rest of the way down that sheer face of dirt and
rocks. I watched helplessly as Kenny tumbled down to the bottom of the hill. He
was still holding onto the minibike's handle bars and they took turns being on
the bottom of every other tumble. Kenny then the minibike and then Kenny again;
they continued this way until finally coming to a stop at the very bottom of
the little mountain in pile of thick dirt and dust.
Somehow the magic
of the moment, which had held me frozen to my spot so I wouldn't miss any of
Kenny's fall; released me from its grip. All of a sudden I felt myself moving
as fast as my sneakered feet could go running down hill
I reached Kenny's
side before all the dust could settle, he looked dead. The mini's front wheel
was now firmly touching the lower part of the frame very similar to when I
first got it.
Kenny, the ever powerful "Moose", slowly began to move.
Rolling over and sitting up, he was covered in a mixture of sand, mud and
blood. But aside from suffering a few scrapes on his face and hands Kenny was
pretty much ok, although I'll bet a tad sore from his landing
either one of us spoke, we both looked over at the mini...
spitting out dirt and blood mumbled "What happened?"
All of my pride
in my friend's bravado, trying to make a Evel Knievel and Craig Breedlove
moment, vanished after realizing he didn't have a clue of what just happened to
Kenny sat for a few minutes and then got up and dusted himself off
from his near brush with death.
We picked up and carried the minibike
home. All the way back to the house he and I brainstormed an explanation of
what we would tell our parents when they asked us what happened to Kenny's