Four out-of-shape guys, 800 pounds of railroad handcar, 900 feet of track. No problem. It was just for fun, in the words of handcar race organizer Rich Reitnauer.
Fun for the four of us from the Nevada Appeal newsroom usually involves more sedentary behavior, like golf. We work keyboards, not exactly a strength building activity.
Our city editor, Robb Hicken, thought it would be fun to enter a team in the Nevada Day Weekend "Just for Fun" Handcar Races at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
He took no scientific approach at all to building a team. I was standing closest to him when the idea struck so I got recruited and Hicken added his own name.
We needed five people - four to operate the handcar and a pusher to launch us off the start line. Hicken brought our newest reporter Jim Scripps onto our team. I bet Scripps never thought he would be captain of a handcar team when he signed on here a few weeks ago.
Hicken figured adding copy editor Jeff Munson would give us muscle power. Munson had the most formidable stature of our editorial quartet but he attributed it all to beer and food.
It was Munson who said, "We're going to get our asses kicked," when we gathered four our first introduction to a handcar Friday afternoon.
"No we're not," Hicken countered. "It's just for fun anyway.""
I shared Munson's optimism, especially since beefier gentlemen from the Nevada Appeal pressroom and other backroom operations were fielding their own team.
"I just hope we beat the Sisters of Sage and the Wild Women of the Woods," I said.
We introduced ourselves to Bernie Allen, the railroad museum's handcar coordinator.
"We're from the Nevada Appeal," Hicken said.
"That's not worth a hoot but it's OK," Allen said.
Humor at our expense would continue on Sunday but, believe it or not, we got the last laugh, sort of, but that's getting ahead of the story.
We appointed our captain Scripps as brake man.
Our first run took us all of 50 or 100 feet, just enough to get us into motion and learn the up-and-down rhythm of the handcar handles. Allen asked if we wanted to try the racetrack out.
"Sure," we said.
We made a run and then learned we had to pump the handcar uphill to get back to the roundtable. That didn't please us at all.
We got back and our captain immediately opted for a nap.
"Can I use the mattress for a while?" Scripps asked.
Spectators never see the mattress. The start has a pusher pushing the handcar into motion and then falling onto a mattress between the tracks.
We all somehow got back to our autos.
""I feel wobbly," I admitted. "How about you?"
"Yeah," Hicken said and Scripps nodded.
Come Sunday morning and race day, I wondered if we would have a team. We were supposed to be at the railroad museum before 10 a.m., the designated start time.
As 10 o'clock rolled around, I was the team. Scripps sauntered in just a couple minutes before the first team mounted the handcar. Luckily, we were sixth in line.
Race announcer and legendary local radio and television man Craig Swope asked if all teams were present. Scripps and I reported that 40 percent of our team was present.
"That's consistent with their accuracy," Swope announced to the crowd.
Luckily for us, the teams before us took forever to take the car to the starting line and make practice starts and final adjustments.
"Teya, are you more than 40 percent here," Swope asked at 10:25 a.m.
"Not yet," I answered.
Allen said, "Just like the rest of the paper: it's late."
By 10:49, Munson showed up so we had three people. Not perfect but not impossible.
"Teya, is the rest of your team here?"
"Kind of," I answered. "We're raceable."
Then Hicken decided to make an appearance at 10:50, with about three minutes to spare before a start time. Our pusher never did come so we had to borrow Jim Burns and John Silva from our sister team, the Tahoe-Carson Area Newspapers.
We had only 900 feet to negotiate. Back in an earlier era, railroad workers propelled themselves by handcar from Carson City to Minden just to get to work.
"It's all about technique, guys," Captain Scripps said as we mounted the handcar for our leisurely roll from the finish line back to the start area.
"Good push off," Hicken added.
We spun wheels off the start line, losing precious moments. Then it was a mad dash through the woods, out of the sight of spectators, who only see the final third of the race.
Munson and Hicken manned the rear bar, Scripps took the left front and I handled the right front. Munson and Hicken grunted with every push down on the rear bar.
We built up speed that amazed all of us. But was it enough to beat the Wild Women? Putting a handcar in motion is amazingly easy, despite the 800 pounds. It's breaking the 40-second barrier that's tough.
Only five of 11 teams finished the day with sub-40 times. We were incredulous to learn our time of 39.95, a tentative second place behind only our in-house T-CAN rivals with 38.13 seconds. We finished the first run in fifth place.
"I was hoping we would lose so I could go home," Munson said, gripping his pectorals after the first run.
"I was hoping we would lose so I could go to cop logs," I said.
Indeed, between the two runs I hurried to the Sheriff's Department to look over the crime logs, gulping in oxygen for a good half hour.
Upon my return, I faced some gentle taunting from Darlene Berry from the Cartoon City Pumpers team, which clocked in at 42.63 in the first run.
"You came in at 39.95," Berry said. "We're gonna beat you."
"Fat chance," I said.
Hicken gave the pre-race tip that improved my second run.
"Remember to breath normal," Hicken said. "Don't hold your breath. Just breathe in and out."
We had a better start for the second run, better rhythm and, yes, a better finish time: 38.59 second, nearly a second and a half faster and only .46 second behind our burly T-CAN rivals.
We finished in fourth place, far beyond our expectations.
"Not bad at all," Munson said. "I'll see you at work, Teya."
"You got it," I said and then headed back to the office for my Sunday duties.
Nevada Day Weekend "Just for Fun" Handcar Races final results:
1. Valley Chevrolet, 36.97 seconds
2. Tahoe-Carson Area Newspapers, 38.13
3. All Star Mudslingers, 38.21
4. Nevada Appeal, 38.59
5. Team RE/MAX, 38.69
6. Carson City Kiwanis Club, 40.18
7. Cartoon City Pumpers, 41.67
8. Saving the Best for Last, 42.05
9. Nevada Day Committee, 44.27
10. Wild Women of the Woods, 46.38
11. Sisters of Sage, 56.07