The shop at Arciform, a North Portland-based antiques and home-refurbishing firm, is part carpentry center, part soapbox derby car garage. The Arciform crew has entered a team in the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby for the past six years, joining more than 40-plus local teams in careening their handbuilt vehicles down Mount Tabor's winding slopes at high speeds. The shop has amassed quite the collection of cars from years past—a stegosaurus skeleton and Lego car (winner of the Derby "Crowd Favorite" award in 2009) decorate the space alongside the team's current project. As the team sawed and banged away at its newest rolling creation, WW sat down to chat with Spencer Fransway, a 28-year-old Lewis & Clark grad and Arciform team member who fixes houses by day and builds soapbox cars by night. We even got a sneak peek at the team's brand-new 2010 Derby dog.
WW: Why is the Adult Soapbox Derby such a tradition in Portland?
Spencer Fransway: The creative energy within Portland and the mechanical know-how is rampant. This is a highly educated city and the derby is a creative outlet, a fun day in the sun that really epitomizes Portland. The people who build these cars are usually carpenters or bike mechanics, and it's generally a lot of shop time. On the day of, as much as it's a family-friendly event, it's also like a giant beer garden, and it's like all the eccentricities of Portland come together.
Tell us about your car.
This year we're building a dog. When you move the steering wheel the head will rotate, and the dog will look like it's running. The legs will rotate so it looks like the legs are really running. We start with the bearings, the steering, the brakes, the wheels, as the base. Then we'll add a plywood skeleton and make the dog's body out ofpapier-mâché.
So, who will steer your car down the hill?
We're trying to make it so that two or three people can "ride" the dog. And we've been brainstorming ideas for costumes. Right now we're thinking about dressing up as fleas or ticks.
What cars have you built in the past?
We've built a stegosaurus skeleton, a Lego car and a wrestling ring. The stegosaurus was awesome but it was really slow, because the plywood skeleton acted as a sail and really slowed the car down. But that's OK—we've been focusing more and more on the art, rather than the science, of our car.
How do you decide what the theme of your car will be each year?
We meet two or three times at the Alibi over on North Interstate Avenue and start throwing around a bunch of different ideas. We don't want to be generic, but there are only so many things you can do with your car. Like, who doesn't love Legos? We also ask ourselves how realistic each idea is. We want to be able to finish the thing. We narrow it down to three ideas and then we vote.
How much does it cost you to build your car each year?
We rarely spend that much, since most of our materials are already lying around the shop. Our main expense is beer and food—we usually spend about $150 on that. PBR is typically the drink of choice.
What advice do you have for first-time Soapbox Derby racers?
Never hit the brakes.
The 14th annual Portland Adult Soapbox Derby takes place on Mount Tabor, Southeast 60th Avenue and Salmon Street. 10 am-4 pm Saturday, Aug. 14. Free. Details at soapboxracer.com.