Another Year Another Soapbox – Our Build for 2019

Here we go again! Very soon our lives will be taken over by everything to do with building our ‘new’ soapbox, designing our costumes and putting together a wacky performance. And we are all very excited about it!

Last year was the first time any of us had had anything to do with soapboxing building and racing. The only experience we had was of watching the Red Bull races on the telly and saying ‘bet we could do that’ but never really meaning it.

Then last year the opportunity to test out whether we really ‘could do it’ came along and we decided to go for it! After a few emails and a couple of frantic phone calls, my brother Tony, my niece Fran, her partner Oli, and myself became team Cushie Butterfield and the Herrington Kippers and an application went off – within hours we were told we had a place in the 2018 North East Soapbox event!!


These outfits were nothing compared to what we’d be wearing on the day! Little did we know what lay ahead of us and how many hours, days and weekends were going to set aside for building, painting, shopping, tweaking, testing and practicing!

We wanted to celebrate something about the North East that would make people proud and also give them a laugh. We knew we wanted to make a boat and at first thought of a fishing, trawler to go with the story of Cushie Butterfield. But after a bit of chatting and reminiscing we decided on building one of the most successful ships to ever be built on the River Wear, the SD14. Our Good Ship Why Aye Man was our tribute to the rich shipbuilding heritage and seafaring history of the North East.

Wor Tony, our chief engineer got to work on a chassis that would be strong enough to take our ship. He spent ages researching what wheels would give us the best stability and speed. The chassis was designed and re-designed and finally put together.


We were pleased to have such good weather in May last year as most of the building and tinkering with wheels, brakes, steering, etc., had to be done outside.

You can’t underestimate how much time it takes to put a soapbox together and a top tip from us is to get started as soon as you can!


Chief Engineer, Wor Tony, looking very proud of his work.

We decided that Oli was the bravest and most fearless so he would be our driver and work started on taking measurements so that he would fit inside the ship.


Note the expert use of a watering can for a brake pedal! If nothing else, we are very resourceful!

With the chassis sorted and everything firmly in place, some testing could take place on a disused road somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We were very cagey about anyone seeing our fabulous chassis and wanted to keep it under wraps for as long as possible.


Luckily there were no disasters (aka crashes!) on the test-runs. A few adjustments to the brakes and to the steering and it was ready to have the ship fitted. The design and making of the actual soapbox took a lot of time – we wanted to make sure we had lots of detail on there. We also wanted to make it as accurate as we could. And so the build began….

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Our good ship Why Aye Man was really coming together – we kept adding more and more detail to it. All of our conversations were dominated by soapbox talk. All of our social media accounts had a soapbox theme to them. We even set up a #CushieButterfield on Twitter. I know I drove people at work crackers with my constant chatter and wittering on about costumes, performances, and aerodynamics! The same could be said for Tony, Fran, and Oli. We were getting more and more excited at the thought of being part of the first North East soapbox race. We fantasized about a podium finish but we weren’t banking on this and realistically we were aiming for the Why Aye Man getting down the track in a respectable time, in one piece and with no injuries to Oli. Anything more than this would be a bonus.

With only a few days to go to race day, we made some final adjustments to the brakes and steering and had a final test run – everything was tickety-boo and quite fast. We hadn’t been able to test the chassis with the ‘top’ on due to the van Tony had borrowed from work is too small for the whole soapbox. We just had to keep our fingers crossed that everything would be fine on race day! But the soapbox was finished and we were all beyond chuffed with the result.


We still had the matter of our performance to perfect and a few other little extras to sort out. Top tip number two – don’t wait until the last minute to buy smoke bombs! What a palaver we had to get some that worked and were safe!

Whilst Oli brushed up on his driving skills, Fran and I sorted out our Herrington Kipper costumes and put the finishing touches to the foam fish we would be slinging into the crowd.

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Race day was upon us and we got to Herrington Country Park nice and early so that we could suss out the competition and have a walk down the course. We were a little worried at how big ‘The Bigun’ was and we did begin to wonder if the ship would make it to the end.


What struck all of us on the day was the banter, the team spirit and the camaraderie amongst all the competitors. It was brilliant. Everyone was there to have a good time and to have a laugh. Every single soapbox was amazing and every team had a story to tell about their build. There was good humored rivalry which had begun on social media months before the event and carried on on the day. People were all helping each other and cheering each other on.

Then the nerves kicked in…..we were given the running order (fifth) and started to get the heebie-jeebies because our soapbox had never been tested and that start ramp looked very high!


We needn’t have worried though…. Wor Oli (dressed as Cushie Butterfield) did a wonderful job and got to the bottom of the hill in one piece (minus a few bits of the ship that came off on the way). We didn’t know what time he’d done but we knew it was fast. We could relax and enjoy the rest of the racing……until we were told we had to take the soapbox down the track again! We had just loaded it into the van! A quick decent and a few tweaks to make it safe and we were back on the ramp ready to go again. Oli did another brilliant drive. More bits came off – we lost the dolphins this time – but it got to the bottom in one (battered!) piece.


Then the announcement came…..we’d only gone and flipping well won!!!


The good ship Why Aye Man had done us proud! It was battered and knackered but it was a winner!


We’ve retired the ship along with Cushie Butterfield and the Herrington Kippers but we will be back this year as The Lambton Legends to defend the title and have a lot of laughs along the way.

We can’t wait to see everyone again and to be part of the second North East Soapbox event and, once again, we’re fantasizing about a podium finish but, realistically, if we can get our soapbox down the track in a respectable time, in one piece and with no injuries we’ll be right chuffed!!

See you all in August. In the meantime watch this space to see how we get on with our new build.

Wor Karen (one-quarter of The Lambton Legends!)

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