Part Four - March 17, 2002

Prototyping Continues: The Body and Paint Department

By the middle of the second week of Byron's detested sojourn in Canada, it became aparent that the motor was not going to arrive - a major setback in testing. The only alternative was to continue constructing the car, in the hopes it would have power after Byron returned. By Monday the 11th, the frame had a coat of Rustoleum gloss black paint to retard rust and make it look slicker (it's amazing what a coat of paint can do for your attitude.)

By Tuesday, I began building the body from 3/4 plywood - as cheap as I could find, since we want to keep the prototype inexpensive. After about 5 hours of work, I had about 60-70 percent of the basic structure done. On Wednesday, Frank Starnes chipped in and we completed the whole mess in about 2.5 hours. As we worked, we made some decisions regarding the car body.

Frank (left) came up with a number of ways to cut the weight of the car. We're already intending to shorten the frame to about 5' in length, and together with the carpenrty modifications, the entire car's weight should be well under 500 pounds (the prototype is over that figure at present.) Our wheels will theoretically support 2000 pounds in concert, but the floor of the warehouse is rather uneven, and occasionally, one of the wheels lifts off the ground. Thus we have to keep the car's weight (with passengers) about 500 pounds under total wheel capacity.

We'll use thinner wood where possible, and reduce the number of support members. The car will also look more like the initial concept drawing, resembling a wedge from the side. Frank suggested we make the body a little slimmer from side to side, and leave a 'running board' around the side. This would provide an 'emergency step' for the car, as well. I expect this recess will be about 3" wide. This reduction of body width will allow the upright 'coffin-cowl' (shown in the artwork on the first page) to be narrower at the bottom, adding to the obviousness of the shape. We'll see what everyone else thinks about this before we do it - and I want to make sure that three kids can still ride in one seat for capacity reasons.

Another concern is the safety bar system, which will mount to the car floor with bolts. It needs to be spring loaded, contact a safety switch when down, and have a release lever that protrudes from the right side of the car, for each seat. This I expect to take at least a week to perfect, with its mount brackets, switch holder, bent pipe bar, pivots, and latch system to consider.

Thursday saw the arrival of the plasma-cut footers, which required a trip to Slidell, Louisiana to acquire. These will really be a time saver when we start track productiuon, hopefully sometime this coming week. I made a command decision last week that we will not only manufacture track segments in 20' lengths, but will also make other standard segments in 8' lengths, and 3.5' radius turns with a lead-in and lead-out segment. As with making an electric train layout, we can then choose track type according to need. Long segments can be bent - impromptu - into squiggles and non-sharp turns, while shorter segments will benefit from prefab turns.

On Saturday morning, Byron called to inform me that he will be spending yet another week in frosty Canada (hooboy.) We at the fort will soldier on alone. But we will be buying a single speed motor to test the car if our 'motor-of-choice' hasn't arrived by Tuesday. I will also be contacting a machine shop to provide us with the tight turn bends, to which we will weld footers.

Below, you can see the painted car (Thursday/Friday work) as it was assembled. Luckily, I had the Byron-built hoist at my disposal, which allowed me to lift the car body onto the frame with minimal effort. Without this, it would have taken four strong men to safely position the beast. The job took about an hour, as I had to improvise the lifting cables.

Here's the author with Lizzie. She may be boxy and ungainly, but she's a dark ride car, and that makes her beautiful - to us, at least.