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No monkeying around in cardboard sled design

Becky Vargo • Jan 24, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Spectators might not recognize the bright -red Monkee Mobile gliding down the hill during the Winterfest Cardboard Sled Race on Saturday, but they should recognize some of the tunes.

Sled designer Bob Franklin said “The Monkees Greatest Hits” will be blasting as he and three friends, dressed up as members of the 1960s pop music band, race for the win. 

The songs might be more familiar because of band reunions and tribute performances almost every decade since the group was formed for “The Monkees” television show, which ran from 1966-68. Those songs include: “Theme from The Monkees,” “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I Wanna Be Free” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”

Franklin said the sled team will be dressed in appropriate attire, complete with wigs and guitars. Franklin will be lead singer Davy Jones, Tom Sterns will be drummer Micky Dolenz, Dan Hysell will be guitarist Mike Nesmith and Dan France will be bass player Peter Tork. 

The 100-pound cardboard sled is 130 inches long, 60 inches wide and 2 feet tall.

“I made it small, so if you have to bale out, you can save yourself,” Franklin said.

The total weight of the sled, with all four men aboard, will be close to 1,000 pounds.

“That’s a lot,” Franklin said, “so the design is important.”

Franklin said they spent 135 hours constructing the sled from 1-ply to 5-ply corrugated cardboard obtained from Shoreline Container.

They start with a toboggan-style base and build up from there. The thicker cardboard is used for structure. The thinner cardboard is notched on the outside so it can be bent to form the curves, and Franklin said that’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Because of space limitations in their homes, most of the sled was built in sections in Franklin’s house.

For example, a side panel would be constructed and held together with screws until the glue dried. Then the screws have to be removed because they are not allowed in sled construction.

“We used a gallon of Elmer’s exterior glue,” Franklin said. They also used hot melt and contact adhesive.

Painting had to be done in a warm area or the paint would never dry, he said.

Franklin said they used a minimal amount of tape, because the tape gets wet and comes off, and that would slow them down.

He also pointed out the front of the sled and how it angles up like a ski. If you don’t raise the front and you hit some soft snow, you’ll dig right in, stop and maybe flip, Franklin said.

They use ski wax on the bottom for glide.

Franklin’s name may be familiar to area residents, as he has been constructing award-winning sleds for many years. His wife, Lisa, calls him “the sled master of Grand Haven.”

There have been two versions of the Pink Cadillac, one of which Franklin says was his fastest sled design ever. His largest sled was a 17-foot-long guitar, manned by riders dressed as Elvis.

“One of my favorites was the four motorcycles on a platform,” Lisa said.

“That one didn’t work out very well,” her husband added.

Franklin also designed a pirate ship, an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile and an ice cream truck. He also created a chili dog and french fry sled for Great Lakes Greek Chili Dogs owner Steve Dutmers to celebrate his 25th year in business.

In addition to the Monkee Mobile, Franklin built an extra sled for Stern’s daughter, Brenna. Fashioned as Olaf, the snowman from the movie “Frozen,” the sled will allow the little girl with Rhett’s syndrome a chance to be outside and see her dad race down the hill, Franklin said. That one took him a couple of weeks to build, he said.

Even if they don’t win the sled race, Franklin said they always have a good time at Winterfest.

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