My grandfather could fix just about anything you put in front of him. After many years working at Otasco, he officially retired. Unofficially, he continued to tinker with items friends and neighbors brought by his shop at 801 11th Street in Mena. Toasters, lawn mowers, bicycles. Knowing how things worked, or having the curiosity to figure it out, was a huge part of who Clarence Roy “Foots” Lay was. Along the way, he collected many odds and ends other people no longer wanted. Grandpa often saw uses for things most people would consider junk.
His greatest inventions, in my eyes, were the scooters he fashioned together out of wooden boards, cast off old roller skates and handle bars removed from small bikes. These scooters were presented to my sisters and me just as the scooter craze revived in the late 80s and stores began selling the trussed up versions that sported mini bicycle wheels and bicycle handlebars.
Our scooters, painted red, blue and green, were unique in their construction, each a slightly different size. The red was the tallest, the green the smallest, but the blue scooter was definitely the fastest and the one we fought over the most. The metal roller skate wheels made a loud whoosh as we pushed up and down our long driveway.
The neighbor kids didn’t know what to think at first and made fun of these contraptions that must have looked a little clunky compared to the smooth new scooters they acquired. Undaunted, we held races and found my grandfather’s inventions to be just as fast, and the noise far more pleasing.
I remember Grandpa watching us race around on one of his visits. After awhile, he’d call one of us over, take the scooter in his hands, flip it over and pull a tool from his pocket. After tinkering with a screw or occasionally lubing the wheels, he’d turn the scooter back over to us with a grin. “That oughtta make you go a little faster,” he’d say with a wink and a nod towards the neighbors with their new scooters. Usually a race would ensue and I knew Grandpa was pleased to see his inventions holding their own against factory made scooters.
When my little sister eventually got one of these newer scooters, we took turns riding it, but we still used my grandfather’s scooters until we were too big for their wooden bases. I’m not sure what happened to those scooters, but they were so well worn they probably couldn’t be passed down to others. They’d served their original owners too well. Not bad for a few boards, roller skates and handlebars somebody else threw away.
Photo credits: “vintage bicycle” by foto76 @ freedigitalphotos.net, skates and scooters under Creative Common License at freeimages.com.