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Building cars, experience, intergenerational bonds

Cub Scouts partner with expert woodworkers for annual pinewood derby

Created date

June 27th, 2017
Cub Scout Vincent Sorrentino (left), along with his parents, worked in Riderwood’s woodshop to build his car for the annual pinewood derby.

Cub Scout Vincent Sorrentino (left), along with his parents, worked in Riderwood’s woodshop to build his car for the annual pinewood derby.

One Saturday in February each year, Riderwood’s on-site woodshop—normally the domain of handy retirees working on projects—is bustling with young Cub Scouts. 

The boys, members of Cub Scout pack 273 in Silver Spring, Md., come to Riderwood to make wooden cars for their annual pinewood derby, a Cub Scout tradition that began in 1953 in California. 

Not only can the boys make use of the state-of-the-art woodworking equipment in Riderwood’s woodshop, but even more importantly, they are able to get expert assistance from residents who are experienced woodworkers.

“They come with blocks of wood to make their derby cars,” says resident Bill Beaver, who has organized the fun-filled event for the last eight years. “They sketch out what they want, we cut it out, and I show them how to sand them down.”

Bill has recruited about six Riderwood woodworkers each year to assist the group of Scouts with their derby cars. This past year, 32 Scouts, along with their parents, came to the event. 

“It’s outstanding, and they look forward to it every year,” he says of his fellow woodworkers. “I have no problem getting volunteers.”

Safety first

Of course, the Riderwood woodworkers, not the children, handle the saws. But Bill does a safety demonstration for the group, and the boys are able learn about woodworking from watching the older men. 

After the Riderwood residents cut out the Scouts’ derby cars, the boys sand them down. Then the resident woodworkers help them attach the wheels, and the Scouts take their nearly complete cars home to paint them. 

As much as the residents enjoy helping the youngsters, the Scouts also look forward to visiting Riderwood.

“They love it, and they keep asking, ‘Can we come next year?’” Bill says. “And a lot of times, they want us to come and watch them race.”

Each participant in the pinewood derby has four chances to race his car and can use his best time. The fastest car wins, and recognition also goes to the most creative and ugliest cars, as well as “The Turtle,” the slowest car in the race. 

Den leader Lyle Turner says the bar was set high a couple of years ago when the most creative car had a volcano with “smoke” from dry ice coming out the top. But Turner says the main goal of the derby is for the boys to have fun. Spending the day in Riderwood’s woodshop is certainly a fun way to kick off the annual Cub Scout tradition.