Decades of Wooden Creations

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Photo courtesy of David Irey
Young David in his third vehicle creation, circa 1955.

What a great article by Dick Russ about his homemade wooden car! (See Gas Engine Magazine, October/November 2020 issue.) I also made three of them. The neighborhood grocer would let me have the wooden crates that apples, peaches, melons, and other fruits were shipped to him in. A few city blocks away, there was a railroad unloading for a lumber yard, and the bracing wood to hold the lumber in the car was free for the taking. The crates from the grocer also yielded nails. The wheels came from old tricycles, baby carriages, etc. The axles came from the 5/16- and 3/8-inch rods that held carpet in stairwells. Looking at a photograph of my wooden car, it looks like I used a 2-by-3- or 2-by-6-foot plank for the frame and a 1-by-4-foot plank for axle supports. My dad had some fruit jars with bolts and nuts in the cellar, which I used. A bolt through the 1-by-4 and through a 2-by-10 allowed for steering with your feet. After a couple of accidents and pinching my feet, I learned that we needed steering-limit-stops and used clothesline for rope steering. I went down several hills, some too steep. The brakes consisted of a piece of oak bolted to the frame and dragged against the rear wheel or the ground. The pine crate wood didn’t work out, and the brakes were poor to nonexistent. I never added a gas engine to that car.

In the 1970s, my wooden car building had much improved. I had learned to weld and had a lathe and lots of power tools. I built this 1/4-scale copy of a 1925 Mack Bulldog truck, with chain drive, just like the big trucks. I used two Jari cycle-bar mowers for the wheels and a 31/2hp Briggs and Stratton engine. I made my own axles and rack-and-pinion steering using a GM auto flywheel for teeth. Also, the steering wheel is 1/2-inch electric conduit bent in a 12-inch circle, four flat steel spokes connect it up to a 1/2-inch-round steel rod to the pinion. The frame is 1 1/4-inch square steel tube. I used the transmission and differential from a Sears tractor mower. Springs are one flat leaf from a small, lightweight car. It rides quite well. The top speed is 10 to 12mph. Brakes are a go-cart drum with teeth on them and work well. This truck has been in a lot of parades and our kids, and grandkids, have all driven it many miles. The neighbor kids would come over and ask if Lil’ Mack could come out and play.
It would be interesting if others would write about their first homemade cars.

David Irey can be reached at 6348 Mildred Ave., Edina, MN, 55439, or by phone at (952) 943-8357, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. CST

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