Education

Decorah student turns trash into treasure

Dawson Christopher has passion for restoring

Decorah senior Dawson Christopher works on a  go-cart his father and uncles had when they were young. Christopher has a passion for restoration. (Liz Fox/Decorah)
Decorah senior Dawson Christopher works on a go-cart his father and uncles had when they were young. Christopher has a passion for restoration. (Liz Fox/Decorah)

DECORAH — On a blistering hot summer day in 2016, of all the places I could’ve been, I was in a sinkhole full of junk, scavenging.

The miscellaneous objects in the sinkhole had all kinds of stories behind them — a modern washing machine that had cleaned 1,000 loads of clothes, an antique water pump that had pumped enough water and more to provide for a family who couldn’t have lived without it, and even a “big wheel” tricycle that had at least 25 miles on it and appeared to have seen its fair share of high-speed wrecks.

I continued looking until I saw exactly what I was going to take home — an old Roadmaster bike. It had stainless steel handlebars spotted with rust, a front and rear fender that held the original rustic, red look of the bike, and solid rubber tires on rims, one of which had been smashed.

“You don’t need to bring that thing home,” muttered my dad in a disapproving tone, “it’s junk.”

What my dad didn’t know was, in my mind, that bike already was yellow with a black racing stripe. It was practically mine, and it was coming home one way or another.

I spent the next couple weeks of my summer disassembling, shining up and then painting the bike. Since the wheels were in very rough condition and I didn’t feel like getting new ones, I stored the project in the upstairs of my garage.

Yellow with a black racing stripe, the bike was proof I could turn trash into treasure.

It was early June 2013. My younger cousins and I were running rampant around my aunt and uncle’s farm at my cousin’s graduation party. I came around the corner of their big pole shed and what I saw stopped me in my tracks. A Red Fox go-cart. Covered in leaves and walnuts, it was a small off-roader with a roll cage and big tires that had gone flat from sitting outside.

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In that moment I realized I want to restore old pieces like this, to give them a second chance, a new life, so to speak. To this day, that go-cart still sits on their farm, sinking into the ground, wishing it could be taken for another ride.

Fast forward to spring of 2017. After doing yard work for my aunt and uncle, I had one thing on my mind — that go-cart. I asked my cousin if I could take it home and work on it. What I didn’t know was it was actually their neighbor’s go-cart.

“You probably better not take that one,” my cousin suggested, “but we have another one in the shed you could look at.”

My eyes lit up, and my heart started to beat faster. As we approached the shed, the suspense continued to build up. Thoughts were spinning around in my head like a tornado. What am I going to get my hands on? Is it fast? How old is it? What does it look like?

Covered in a thick layer of dust with a couple of cattle feed tubs sitting on top of it, the go-cart was low to the ground, blue with a hint of rust and a floor piece that had been pierced by gravel dozens of times. It had character, no doubt, and I could just tell that it was fast. I discovered my dad and his siblings owned it when they were kids.

Anyone else would’ve looked at it and seen just a dusty, old go-cart, but my dad and my cousin saw more than that.

“I remember one time when Blaine ran over Brandon with that thing,” dad said with a laugh. “He was chasing him around and Brandon couldn’t run fast enough.”

Knowing my uncles, it was easy to imagine such an incident. It became clear to me, while laughing with my dad and cousin about this single memory, this wasn’t just a go-cart, but rather a piece of their lives, and I wanted it to be a piece of mine.

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When we got it home, I couldn’t wait to start working on it. I tore the motor all the way down to make sure every part was clean and in good shape, meticulously put it all back together, then cleaned the most essential part, the carburetor.

Once it was all back together, it was time for the moment of truth.

Will it run?

I pulled it once, twice, three times. Nothing. I was discouraged, but I knew I wasn’t going to give up. I removed the spark plug and poured a splash of gas into the cylinder. I pulled it three or four more times, then, like the “pop” of a 22 rifle, it fired. I couldn’t believe it. I continued to pull and, finally, it started.

A shot of adrenaline rushed through my body like water rushes through rapids in a river.

I have done more to the go-cart since then. I have welded spots on the frame, repainted the frame a royal blue and the rims white, and put quite a few miles on it, drifting around the house and cruising up and down the road.

To others, it’s just a go-cart, but to me, it’s the reason I do what I do. It’s the reason I aspire to turn trash into treasure.

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