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The 'Moose' helps Lexington Cub Scouts build better Pinewood Derby cars

Cub Scout Will Hounshell carried a red Ferrari Hot Wheels toy car and a block of wood into a Lexington church annex on Saturday morning.

Will, 6, was looking for the man they call Moose.

Allan "Moose" Rice, a Lexington scout leader for two decades, brings his shop tools and his experience to Meadowthorpe Presbyterian Church every weekend in January to help boys build wooden model cars for the Pinewood Derby.

Not long after Will arrived, 40 boys from all around Lexington, with dads and moms in tow, were lining up to see Moose. Each one was carrying a block of wood and hanging on every piece of advice Moose offered.

What's the best way to polish the axle, to sand the wheels?

"It's hard to find an adult to put aside time to help children," said Will's dad, Alan Hounshell. "Moose has an altruistic kind of quality. He's very patient. He's a father figure."

The cars in the Pinewood Derby are powered by gravity and run down a track on plastic wheels. The race is a spring rite of passage for Cub Scouts everywhere.

The idea for the Pinewood Derby, according to the Boy Scouts of America Web site, is for the boys and their parents to work together to create a wooden car.

Easier said than done, said the parents seeking Moose's help. Especially if you don't have the tools or the skills for the project.

Each Cub Scout is given a kit with a block of wood made of pine with notches for wheels, four plastic wheels and four nails. The finished car must not exceed 5 ounces.

Caran Clark came with her son Daniel, 8.

"I'm not sure what he would be able to do if he didn't have someone to help," Clark said. "His father is the den leader, but neither my husband nor I have skills in this area."

Rice, 60, doesn't get paid for his work. A construction worker by trade, he is currently looking for a job.

There is a reason he started bringing his shop tools to the church 12 years ago.

"There was a boy whose family just would not help him. When he brought his car to the Pinewood Derby, the wheels came off and he was crying," Rice said. "The next year we brought our tools in to help him. That year, the boy won a trophy."

Rice is a man who wears a sense of self-deprecation along with his scout leader uniform. One of the badges on his shirt says "untrainable."

His wife, Nancy, 57, his son, Jamie, 24, and daughter, Jobeth, 17, all come to the church to help.

"We tell the boys that, if you can imagine it, you can build it," said Jamie Rice.

A model guide

On Saturday, parents watched and listened as Rice guided their sons through choosing a design, then drawing it on the wood, cutting it out and shaping it with a band saw, a belt sander, a drill press and a Dremel, a rotary shaping tool.

The boys still have a lot of work to do on their own at home. They will paint the car and put on the wheels.

But the hour or so with Rice puts them on the right track in more ways than one, parents say.

"He models behavior that will be handed down generation to generation," says Alan Hounshell.

On Saturday, some boys already knew just exactly what kind of sleek design would take them to victory.

For those who didn't, Moose had compiled a book of suggested designs.

Andy Logan looked over the car that his son Andrew had cut out while working with Moose and other members of the Rice family.

"I like the shape, buddy," Andy Logan told his son.

"Thanks, Dad," said Andrew. "It's lightweight."

Secret of speed

Most all the boys said they had a secret way of building their car that will be refined this year with Moose's help.

Paul De Letter, father of Michael, 9, noted that "We did it all at home before. It was somewhat hectic."

This year, the De Letters are focused on how well the wheels spin, how well the axle is polished.

Kyle McMillin, 10, and his dad, Joe, were working on a car whose body had the perfect curve, a curve that Kyle hopes "will make the wind hit the car just right."

Last year, said Art Davidson, 10, his car was among the slowest. He waited patiently Saturday for a chance to confer with Rice.

"He's going for speed this year," said his mother, Debbie Davidson.

By showing boys such as Will Hounshell how to transform a block of wood into a model race car, Rice says, he's showing them how to succeed.

His own success, he says, is defined by a motto that goes something like this: "One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better if I helped just one young man."