Mine Ore Cart Races offer 'dashes of madness' at BMD

In 2021, a new tradition was born into the Bohemia Mining Days (BMD) event. The inaugural Mine Ore Cart Races were a hit within Cottage Grove last summer, and last Saturday, the community saw it return on S. 10th St.

For the Mine Ore Cart Races, a team must not only endure the physical taxation caused by the racing event itself, but they must also build the vehicle necessary to engage the task – their own mine ore cart. On racing day, three brave souls come together to form each competing team: two “miners” provide their ore cart with propulsion power while a third team member – called the “Tommyknocker” – has to hitch a ride inside the cart and wait to fulfill their purpose.

As the race begins, the miners throw themselves against the rear of their people-powered machine, pushing and running while attempting to guide it down a predesignated straightaway towards a line that is not the finish line. The line at end of the first stretch of the race is actually the halfway mark, and this is where the team’s Tommyknocker gets their chance to shine.

The first obstacle the Tommyknocker must face is the mighty chore of physically righting themselves so that they can prepare to exit the ore cart. Jostling about in the bowels of a nearly out-of-control wooden box with wheels can be disorienting, after all. After managing to discern “up” from “down,” the Tommyknockers must then load three “bags of gold” into the cart. With this done, the Tommyknocker hops back into the team’s non-motorized vehicle. Precious cargo in place, the miners start again with their heaving and pushing and foot-scraping, this time trying to coerce the ore cart to make a U-turn before mad-dashing back to the starting line, which also doubles as the race’s finish line.

 “It was real fun, a lot of work,” said Porter Snyder, who was part of Team Northwest Customs.

When asked how exhausting participating in the race was, Snyder replied, “It’s not comparable. That’s a big cart with a person inside. You’re pushing [to go] as fast as you can, drag racing down a block. It’s hard… You couldn’t really feel it when you’re pushing it back [to the starting line/finish line]… It’s all just adrenaline going back.”

With seven different teams competing this year, the Mine Ore Cart Races lasted roughly over an hour. Two teams faced off against each other during each heat. Each win and loss were tallied to determine the line-up of the racing finale.

After several successful heats, the winners of the 2020 inaugural Mine Ore Cart Races Championship - Team D&D Automotive - appeared as if they might have a shot at repeating. However, it was not meant to be.

Team Northwest Customs came out with a lot of confidence. In the days leading up to the race, Patrick Cartwright posted a friendly wager publicly on social media, “To any team in the BMD second annual Mine Ore Cart Races, beat us if you can,” he wrote. “We will be putting a pot together, the entry fee - if you think your team can beat ours - is $25.00. We will match that $25.00. If you win, you get bragging rights to beating a cart that is like none other. The proceeds will then be donated to help with the event next year.”

At the end of the day, nobody was able to top Team Northwest Customs. The team that consisted of locals Matt Bangle, Ayden Freeman, and Snyder took first place in the final heat versus D&D Automotive. Team Covered Bridge Brewing Company took third place.

“There was a lot of work that went into that, but we won,” Bangle said in the minutes following the race. “We’ve got at least 40 man-hours into [building] that cart, getting it all welded up right. Our whole team went through it, everybody in the shop spent three weeks building it. It was a fun time building it, and it was definitely fun to come out here and win.”

“We’ve known for probably the last six months to a year that we wanted to do this. Once we saw the first one, we were wanting to do it. D&D did it. They’re all my buddies, and I’ve got to beat them. It’s good for the community to come out and watch,” said Freeman.

Later that night, at Coiner Park, prizes were awarded to the top three finishing teams.

Dana Merryday was the main coordinator of the ore cart races this year. He is an active member in the community and has volunteered his time to help BMD and many other public projects throughout his tenure in South Lane County. Regarding the 2nd Annual BMD Mine Ore Cart Races, Merryday partnered with Bohemia Gold Mining Museum and Linda Olsen to make the event a reality.

“It was so much better than the first year,” Merryday said. “We had no idea ‘til we got to the first race what we were doing last year. Afterward, we got all the teams we could together, and we did a BBQ and talked it all through. We had a cart (last year) that had swivel wheels, so it was all over the road. We had a problem with the starter and the signal. So, this year we plugged a lot of holes.”

Merryday says he would also like to get women involved in future events. “We [the event coordinators] were just talking about maybe having a women’s division.”

The organizers of the Mine Ore Cart Races also speculated that future events will likely be held at S. 10th St. from now on, it being the new racing location established this year.

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