Island Bound Traveller            Writer, Storyteller
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast based on Texada Island, British Columbia, Canada.
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Skinny Jimmy's hill rods    
      by Gary Grieco -

Published Powell River Living Magazine Summer 2006
James Dougan is a sweet-natured eccentric, packed full of talent. He designs and builds eye grabbing, jaw dropping hill racers from solid cedar tree trunks fuelled by gravity.
I asked him why?
"To make people smile."

These cedar speeders are works of art, posing as soap box derby racers. They are imbued with Jimmy's own brand of philosophy that defines his lifestyle: consideration of his fellow travellers on the road of life, exemplified by carved crystal crosses mounted on the front of his hill rods; blending lacquered wood, and Jimmy's spiritual belief that his cars were designed to uplift spirits and give pleasure to all who see his creations.

His passion is to rally others and their families with his cry of, "C'mon all you backyard builders and side street sportsters. Imagine the cars you can build!
Jimmy Dougan with his "hill rod"
Jimmy and his son Elder live part time in one of the most beautiful spots in the word - Pender Harbour, British Columbia, Venice of the Sunshine Coast; but the inspiration to create his magical racers came while living in solitude, writing soulful songs at his retreat in Whittaker Bay on the rugged and remote south end of Texada Island, located in the Strait of Georgia.

Skinny Jimmy  (his musical stage name) is a well-known Sunshine Coast singer and raconteur, noted for his songs and guitar playing as discovered by CBC's Vicki Gabereau on her national radio program.

Jimmy's adventure with Hill Rods began in October 2002 when he was captivated by the spirit and excitement of a soap box derby sponsored race in Pender Harbour. Wanting to inspire and teach his young sons, Charles and Elder, about commitment and creativity, he promised they would have a soap box racer in next year's May Day race.

Working together they carved the Hill Rods out of windfall logs with a chainsaw, an artist's eye, and plenty of sweat equity. Jimmy, a master of imagination believes, "You can't create unless you're singing inside."

Jimmy's soap box racers did not start out as finely finished creations, but have evolved over the last three years. He researches the history of the vintage trucks and equipment, as well as the stories of the iron men who drove them. He salvages what he considers 'treasures' for his Hill Rods, such as brass headlights, door handles, and even whole steering boxes.

The Hill Rods are full size down-hill racers that have gone far beyond the orange crates and rickety wooden soapboxes that gave the race its name. Large enough to accommodate a slim adult, but built for kids, they are reminiscent of the 1930's and 40's soap box racers that captured the imagination and craving of the youth of North Americal in the depths of the Great Depression for anything that had four wheels and could 'fly' - if only down a hill under the power of gravitational pull.

James Dougan believes, "today's Soap Box Derby races place too much value on winning and competition, and not enough emphasis on the designing and building of cars as family projects."

"You cause magic to flow when you build a Soap Box Derby car."

There are two types of hill racers according to Skinny Jimmy's definitions: "The 'Hill Buggy' - a home brewed, free spirited, gravity powered Roller, often put together from modified and recycled pieces and materials; and the 'Hill Rod' - which is a Hill Buggy, but fancied up, lowered and customized to reflect the fantasies and eccentricities of the builder."

Jimmy has even drafted up a Hill Buggy Constitution: "To build healthy attitudes, create fun times, and invent new methods of doing things so that the cars and the learning gained can be handed down to our grand kids."

Skinny Jimmy's Hill Rods and down-home philosopy has captured the hearts and imagination of the countless people who viewed his nostalgic masterpieces of a bygone era at events ranging from community fairs, the Texada Island Sandcastle Parade, to Vancouver's prestigious Pacific International Auto Show.

The Hill Rods may never see a down hill race course, but the look of joy on little ones' faces as they get behind the wheel of a Skinny Jimmy cration is all the reward that James Dougan needs to keep those hill rods rolling.