A Step Backwards


Content Tools

609 Main St. Piedmont, South Dakota 57769

I have always been intrigued by the masterful skills of our ancestors in the development of engines, machines and automobiles. For a number of years I have been restoring engines, tractors and machines and have marveled at some of the ingenuity used to develop them and make them work.

In a past GEM magazine, I saw a picture of an auto someone had built, which used a stationary engine for the power source. An idea to try to build an auto similar to what had been built years ago started to grow. Shortly after seeing the picture, I was at an auction sale and spotted the metal parts to a horse-drawn spring wagon in an iron pile. I purchased the wagon with the idea of building an auto; little did I realize what I was getting into!

When I got the wagon home and placed it up on blocks in the garage, it seemed my family and friends thought I had lost my mind. But their 'needling' added to my determination. I started by replacing all the wood on the wagon axles and frame. No wheels were with the wagon, so I scrounged up some old model T wheels which were in pretty bad shape. Tires for a T are expensive, so I decided to use 18' implement wheels, motorcycle tires, and spokes and hubs from the T wheels. I cut the ends of the wagon axles off and welded on spindles from a T. In choosing an engine my decision was driven by weight and physical size. I used a 1924 Cushman four horsepower model C binder for a power source. I modified the engine by adding a second flywheel to make it run smoother. The engine sits right behind the seat and is belted to a 3-speed lawnmower transmission. The transmission is then chain-driven to the wheels using the original lawnmower axles. I added a radiator and a fan to the engine. The body was constructed entirely of wood. The clutch and brakes are controlled by a single lever. The first time the lever is pulled, the drive belt releases. With additional pull, flat pads are engaged with the rear tires to slow the auto. Crude, but it works!

The auto will do 12 miles per hour in high gear and runs very well. Even with modern tools and materials, building an auto was a major challenge. Hats off to our ancestors who accomplished great things with little to work with. If Cushman Company had ever built an auto, maybe this is what it would have looked like. I titled the auto Cushman model #1. The state inspector who inspected the auto for the title application was at a loss as to what to inspect. His comment was, 'I don't know where to start. I'll be back after I study the manual!' Well, he did finally approve a title and the auto is licensed. Stop by on a summer Sunday, we'll go for a drive!