Picture this. You're in the Olympic Games, in the starting chute of the bobsled run. The German next to you turns and asks, "Where did you get your bobsled?"
You say, "Mr. Raty's shop class."And if you think that's far-fetched, then you weren't at the Winter Sports Park this past Wednesday afternoon, at the bottom of the bobsled run, where a gathering of auto mechanic, welding, vocational technical and small-engine repair teachers huddled with officials of the U.S. Bobsled Federation, who had flown all the way from New York because the news was just too good to be true: Utah's shop teachers want to build bobsleds.
Voila! The Olympics come to vo-tech.
Chris Lindsay, a New York lawyer by day and a bobsledder the rest of the time, made the 'sledder's lead pitch. Carrying the kind of fervor you have to carry when your sport of obsession happens to be underfunded, underappreciated, and almost unknown, his appeal was to the shop teachers' patriotism.
"The Swiss don't like to hear this," he said, "but the bobsled was invented in America."
New York, to be specific.
Loggers in the Adirondacks invented the forerunner of today's sport bobsleds as a slick way of getting trees downhill in the winter. That was in 1839, about the same time the Mormon Church was getting started in practically the same area. Coincidence? Lindsay thought not.
"Mormons started there and moved here," he said, "Now, so is the bobsled."
Eloquent as Lindsay was, the shop teachers were only half-listening. Mostly, they were busy eying the display bobsled on the far side of the room, their gnarled fingers, no strangers to a band saw, turning and twitching, wanting to get started.
There in front of them stood an alternative to making doorstops and breadboards this semester.
Bobsled insiders estimate there are about 1,500 bobsleds in the world, and that includes the ones that crashed in "Cool Runnings." Maybe 100 are in North America, and about 35 in the United States, where you have a better chance of running into a Delorean than a bobsled.
The fact that Utah's high school shop classes could build a dozen or so in the next couple of months is not exactly inconsequential.
If all this sounds suspiciously like another Bob Bills Production, that's because it is. Bob, the synergy behind the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Sport to Sport program, wants Utah's school kids to experience the thrill of going 60 miles an hour without having to worry about gas money, so he cooked up this shop class idea. Two weeks ago, just before Utah Governor Mike Leavitt was about to address an Olympic forum, Bob mentioned his plan to the governor. The next thing he knew the governor was standing up and announcing the whole program, to be concluded by a race this winter called the Governor's Cup.
Even Bills, who has the energy of an entire canine patrol, somewhat paled. So much for moving along at pace. Still, within two weeks, the program was up and running, with a few wrinkles yet to be ironed out.
The shop teachers were not concerned with logistics, only possibilities.
As soon as the formal remarks were over, Tom Raty, who teaches model shop and welding at Salt Lake's Granite High, moved to the display bobsled and gave it the once-over. What he saw was fiberglass, molded steel, a few rivets and bolts. No big deal.
He rubbed his shop teacher's hands together.
"Now I can keep the delinquents busy this winter," he said.
"I say that very lovingly," he added, smiling.
"Really, this is everything I teach!" he went on, "my kids will go nuts building this. I'll go nuts."
Meanwhile, the bobsledders were already there.