CAMDEN, Maine — Four teenage girls hard at work putting the finishing touches on their toboggan for the upcoming U.S. National Championships have a strong message for other would-be competitors in their class.
“Nobody else should do this,” Emma Vannorsdall, 14, of Camden said Friday.
David Vaughn, a hobbyist woodworker and former toboggan race competitor, amended her thought.
“If they like second place, go ahead and race,” he said.
The girls and Vaughn were joking, but they are very serious about their desire to win their class in the popular championships for the second year in a row — this time, with a silky-smooth toboggan that they’ve been working on for six weeks in Vaughn’s woodshop.
“It’s been so much fun,” Abby Chamberlin, 14, of Camden said of their quest to build the best toboggan.
Vaughn, who helped Chamberlin’s older brother build his own wooden sled several years ago, said it’s been fun to work with the team of girls. Only one had some prior woodworking experience, but all have been quick studies and dedicated to doing the work themselves, he said.
“It’s been a real joy, teaching the girls,” he said. “They’re quick learners, and they’re not afraid to do anything.”
The girls — Vannorsdall, Chamberlin, 14-year-old Sadie Allen and 15-year-old Erin Dowd, all of Camden, took Chamberlin’s brother’s toboggan for last year’s championships and raced as the Rockport Rockettes. They were the fastest children’s team and got a taste for toboggans, as well as for winning. They have big hopes for their showing in the 24th annual championships, scheduled for Feb. 7-9 at the Camden Snow Bowl, when they will race as “Der Blitz.”
“In Spanish class we learned ‘Der Blitz,’ which means ‘the lightning’ in German,” Dowd explained.
“Spanish class!” Vaughn, who clearly was amused by the girls’ high spirits, repeated with a laugh.
They haven’t figured out what their costumes — critically important during the toboggan championships — will be yet, but they’re working on it. Last year, the girls were moving so quickly down the wooden, 400-foot long chute to Hosmer Pond that Allen burned through the leg of her spray-painted Tyvek suit when she brushed against the side.
“It’s the most exhilarating nine seconds,” she said.
They said that when Vaughn asked after last year’s strong showing if the girls would be interested in learning how to build a new sled, they were skeptical that they could do the work — but they wanted to try.
Vaughn and Tom Cox of Camden, a toboggan inspector with the championships, sawed enough wood runners and slats for a few sleds, and the girls chose the ones they wanted. They learned how to steam the end and bend it over a mold to make the characteristic swooping toboggan shape. Some boards snapped and cracked, but it was all part of the learning process, they said.
They drilled holes for the screws and then made tiny ash dowels to fill in those holes. Then came their introduction to the DeWalt sander.
“Sanding is a huge part,” Allen said.
“Any imperfections can slow you down on the chute,” Dowd chimed in.
The bottom of their toboggan felt perfectly smooth, ready to zip down the chute faster than their namesake bolt of lightning, but they encouraged their competition to go in a different direction.
“Put sand on the bottom!” Vannorsdall suggested.
“A little pumice in the paint,” Vaughn added.