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Oil Can Derby to return to July festivities

June 23, 2012
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

WELLSBURG - After a hiatus of more than 40 years, the Wellsburg Oil Can Derby will return as part of the city's week-long celebration of Independence Day.

Organizers and past participants hope the new participants will experience the same quality time assembling the cars with family members as they did with their fathers and the excitement and spirit of friendly competition they felt on the day of the race.

Debbie Baker, chairman of the Wellsburg 4th of July Committee, said she and fellow committee members are very pleased that Freddy Marino has agreed to coordinate the race.

The event will be one of several planned for Independence Day and one of many more included in the weeklong observance.

Open to boys and girls, ages 8-15, the race will have two divisions: stock, for a car and driver together weighing 210 pounds and super stock, for a car and driver weighing 225 pounds.

Trophies for first, second, third and fourth place will be awarded in each division. There also will be trophies for best appearance.

Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 12:30 p.m., with the race set for 1 p.m. on Fourth Street by the Brooke County Salvation Army headquarters.

Crews have paved the street as part of the city's paving project, and Mazzella Welding is providing a ramp for the 600 foot course.

Begun in 1946, the race got its name from the oil cans produced by Eagle Manufacturing, a local industry that was a major sponsor.

Marino has good memories of participating in the derby as a boy.

"It was the biggest thing in my childhood and it still sticks. It was one of the things you couldn't wait for and if you didn't get to do it, you really wanted to," he said.

As the winner of the first derby in 1946, Dan Gilchrist said it's a memory he also will never forget.

"The older I get, the cooler it is. I was sure as sure-fire I was going to win that," he recalled.

Gilchrist said there were no guidelines for the vehicles that entered - "anything was legal. You never saw such contraptions in your life."

His own vehicle was a an old pedal tractor he drug out of a creek, fitted with a rope to guide it and a hand brake that applied pressure to its wagon wheels to stop them. He dubbed it Old '97, a name inspired by the song, "The Wreck of the Old '97," he noted.

Gilchrist said he worked on it with his uncle, Cliff Gilchrist; and Mark Denham. An early coordinator of the race, "he was a wonderful, Christian man. He loved kids," he said.

Denham would be followed by other coordinators, including Bernard Henry and Matt Camilletti. And Gilchrist would grow up to see all of his children - including his daughter Brenda, the first girl to enter the derby - and several grandchildren race in the derby.

Ruby Greathouse, curator of the Brooke County Museum, said Gilchrist's first car and trophy will be displayed in a window at the museum's new location, the former G.C. Murphy store on Charles Street, which is undergoing renovations.

The first race itself, as well as other home movies of past Independence Day festivities , can be viewed on the Wellsburg 4th of July Committee's website at wellsburg4thofjuly.com.

Marino said the derby has brought many family members together as they worked together on the cars and parents, grandparents and others cheered for their children.

"I think that's why I want to do this, more than anything," he said.

As a boy, he won the race a few times, but it's working with his late father, Al, that he will remember most about the derby, Marino said.

"My father and me - we butted heads - but my greatest memory is working together on the car," he said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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