Students participate in bed races on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. The event is part of Lehigh-Lafayette Week and was coordinated by the Association of Student Alumni. (Chris Barry/B&W Staff)

Bed Races through the years


Standing at the corner of Dead Man’s Curve, the windy stretch of road just above Delta Upsilon, Melissa Timmerman watched a makeshift cart rear around the corner as four men propelled it forward using metal poles. A female student dressed in attire akin to a MoCos outfit clutched onto the cart beneath her as they broke the curve and headed on to the finish line by Taylor Dormitory.

As the crowd whooped and hollered, Timmerman thought, “Man, that looks dangerous.”

The year was 1981 and Timmerman just had her first look at bed races, a tradition put on during Greek Week in the spring. While the tradition remains alive today, it has become a regulated event during Lehigh-Lafayette week that has undergone a number of changes in the name of safety.

Rumored to have begun in 1967, bed races drew crowds from every corner of campus during the 70s and 80s.

Each fraternity on the Hill relied on their resident engineers to craft a vehicle that could endure the sharp curves of the hill and fit a female friend of the house on top. Every team would race down individually and were timed, dictating the winner.

Melissa Timmerman’s husband Curt Timmerman, ’84, remembers at least half the school coming out to crowd the Hill and watch the event.

“If you got too close as a spectator though, you were going to be taken out,” he said.

As Lehigh and the law have evolved, no longer greeting first year students with beer trucks, another Lehigh relic of the past, bed races ran in that model were deemed too dangerous by the school. After a several year lull, the Alumni Student Association picked the event back up in 2007. They moved the race from the Hill to Memorial Walkway and replaced the old carts with the wooden, extra long beds that students find in their dormitories.

After several years of running the event in this style though, the real beds, too, were deemed unsafe.

Engineers from Wilbur Powerhouse and the Baker Institute designed new cart style beds for the 150th meet up bed races that secured the students riding them better and had more functional steering abilities.

Despite the physical changes to the race over the years, Brendan McCullagh, a member of ASA and a tour guide, said that the tradition in itself remains important to the Lehigh community.

Lehigh tour guides, he said, always mention the event to their tour groups.

“Parents usually get a kick out of the story and those that went here then start telling their kids about the times that they participated in bed races,” he said.

Bed Races will take place Wednesday at 5 p.m.

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