A Bit of Nostalgia

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

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Although it’s not the exact one used for the homemade vehicle, this Maytag engine is similar to the one that powered the sidewalk car.

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 2×4 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.

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