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.
It took a while to save enough money to buy the hardware to install the little engine, but I got it done. I had my first real engine powered car. Initially, I overlooked one important item — brakes. I overcame this by attaching a board to the side of the car that dragged on the sidewalk. When I wanted to stop, I would just pull back on the board. Crude, but effective.
Now you may want to know why I’m telling you this. The other day I was out driving in my E-type and thought to myself, what a pleasure it was and how much I enjoyed the drive, especially with the top down, taking in the beauty of our countryside. Then, I thought about the sidewalk car I had built and drove back in 1950. As enjoyable as it is to take the E-type for a drive, nothing was as thrilling to a 12-year-old as driving my car down the sidewalk, with the Maytag engine popping along the way.