Making Antique Engine Carts

Tips for turning swap meet wheels into top notch engine carts

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Dave Irey bought more than 30 steel wheels at an auto parts swap meet and used them on a total of nine antique engine carts.

By Dave Irey

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At a fall swap meet for auto parts at our local fairgrounds, I found a woman selling old steel wheels. Most of the wheels were rusty, but not broken. There were 30 or more of them so I bought them all at a reasonable price, deciding they were suitable for gas engine carts. I bought six sets of four wheels each and a few pairs and singles. Some had flat faces and two sets had round faces.

Wood for the cart rails
Once home with the wheels, I started making the carts. I had the wheels and some other miscellaneous parts, as well as several original carts to make patterns from. A neighbor was renovating an old factory in downtown Minneapolis and passed along to me some free 4x4 and 4x6 Douglas fir timbers.

The re-sawn wood was cleaned and squared on the wood joiner. All the holes were drilled on a drill press so they were squared and true. I have a complete woodworking shop and cut the rough wood into the various sizes and lengths that I needed to make the cart rails.

Additional materials 
At a local threshing show sawmill, I bought a 20-foot length of 2-1/4-inch thick white oak. I then went to a steel supplier and bought some 2-inch wide, 1/4-inch thick steel flat iron and several 7/16-inch-by- 20-foot long steel rods to make pull handles. I also bought a 2-3/8-inch-by-20-foot long steel rod and several 1- by- 3/16-inch thick flat steel pieces 20 feet long. A lot of engine carts use 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch pipe for axles, and some use 1-inch axles. I bought 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch and 1-inch stock and a 12-foot length of 3/4-inch solid steel shaft. With all of this and a box of bolts and square nuts, I went to work.

Bolster patterns 
I started by making some wooden patterns in the shape of the bolsters I wanted. Then I cut the steel pieces to length, marked the bends with soap stone and clamped 3/4-by-3/4-inch angle iron 1/4-inch away from the bend. I used this as a guide so that when I heated it with my oxy-acetylene torch it would be straight. I then put the red hot piece in the vice and bent it to fit the wood pattern. It makes the wood smoke and smell so I squirted it with water. Then, I welded it to the solid axle and it’s really solid now.

The smallest steel wheels were 7-inches in diameter and the biggest pair were 24-inches in diameter. I started with the smallest pair first and made a cart 20-inches wide and 28-inches long out of oak, perfect for a circa-1920 Ideal air-cooled engine. I then went on to make seven more carts using the general pattern of the originals and a little freelance thought of my own. Most of the carts are 20 or 26 inches wide with a length of 28, 44 or 48 inches.

I made a jig fixture to bend the wagon handle loops that go around the front axle shaft. I used a piece of steel bar, 1-1/2 inches wide by 12 inches long by 5/8-inch thick, and drilled various sized holes in the bar. By turning various sized round steel pins on my lathe, I had a fixture to roll various sized circles. A 3/4-inch square tube with various holes and a steel roller followed the hot steel around to make the circle bend smooth. I then heated up round steel rods until they were dull red, bent a loop to go around the axle shafts and made two 80-degree bends to make a 33-inch long U-shaped pull handle. This makes a nice looking handle much like the originals.

Wheel repair 
Several of the steel wheel centers were worn out and I had to rebore them. The 1-inch ones were rebored to 3/4-inch pipe size and these made a nice fit – not loose and sloppy like they were before. For this, I used 3/4-inch pipe from my local home center as it was the cheapest. Some of the other sized wheels and shafts were redone in a similar fashion; some were 1-inch, some were 3/4-inch and one was 5/8-inch.

30 wheels, 9 carts 
When I was finished, I had built seven carts from scratch and repaired two broken ones I had on hand. I plan on leaving two of my original carts unvarnished so that I can use them for two of my unrestored engines. One is a 1-1/2 HP Rock Island-built contract engine with an 11-inch pulley cast into the flywheel. It had been turned into a pump jack and escaped rust by being used in a well house. The other engine is a circa-1920 2 HP Waterloo Boy with lots of original paint. This engine also must have been stored inside.

Contact Dave Irey at 6348 Mildred Ave., Edina, MN 55439.