A Bit of Nostalgia

Read these endearing reminiscences about a homemade “sidewalk car,” built from a Maytag washing machine engine.

| October/November 2020


Back in 1950, my dad had just graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a pharmacy degree. His first job offer was at the Milo Chew Drug Store in Wellington, Kansas. At the time, I was in the sixth-grade, but I loved cars. My first car was a pedal car that my grandmother bought for me during the war for $5. The hardware store in Pawnee allowed her to make payments of 25 cents per month until it was paid for.

My folks didn’t have a lot of money, so an allowance was out of the question. I decided that I wanted to make a car that would be fun to drive on the sidewalks. There weren’t many hills in Wellington, but I could push it as fast as I could and coast along the sidewalks. At least that was my plan. All I needed was a little money to buy the wood and wheels.

I mentioned my plans to a girl in my sixth-grade class. I told her that I wanted to build a car as soon as I could get the money to buy parts. She said that her father owned a dry cleaning business and he would buy used coat hangers for a penny a piece. I met with her dad and had a job. I spent all my spare time knocking on the neighbors’ doors, requesting coat hangers, and it wasn’t long until I saved enough money to buy the wood, wheels and hardware needed to build a car.

I don’t have any pictures of that car, but it had a wooden flat floor and four wheels. The steering was nothing more than a steel bar bolted to the bottom of a 2x4 with a large bolt in the center that would allow me to steer it with my feet. I made the seat from an old wooden nail barrel that I cut up to make a bucket seat. When finished, I had lots of friends who would push me around in exchange for a ride. Not much of a car, but it was my first, and it was fun to drive.

Not long after I had the sidewalk car finished, I was approached by a neighbor lady who said she had a small engine she would give me for my car, if I wanted it. You can imagine how thrilled I was with the thought of a motorized sidewalk car. The engine she had was removed from her Maytag washing machine. It was a single-cylinder Maytag 92.

9/17/2020 11:33:39 AM

A schoolmate of mine at St. Leo prep school in Florida (surname was Walker, but I don't remember his first name) built a similar motorized car and it had your steering system--did you patent it? ;-). It had a rather large single-cylinder engine mounted behind the driver and had a belt drive to one rear wheel. The drive was controlled with an idler (?) pulley attached to a wooden handle. Pushing the handle forward tightened the belt and delivered power to the rear wheel. Speed was controlled by loosening pressure on the idler pulley, allowing variable slip, which also allowed smooth starts from rest. Brakes were provided by another wooden handle that pivoted to press against the other rear wheel's tire. The engine turned slowly, but it had enough power to move the car at a rather high speed--too fast fast for safety or for the rickety components holding the vehicle together, so the belt was constantly being slipped.


Gas Engine Magazine A_M 16Gas Engine Magazine is your best source for tractor and stationary gas engine information.  Subscribe and connect with more than 23,000 other gas engine collectors and build your knowledge, share your passion and search for parts, in the publication written by and for gas engine enthusiasts! Gas Engine Magazine brings you: restoration stories, company histories, and technical advice. Plus our Flywheel Forum column helps answer your engine inquiries!

Facebook YouTube