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Friday, November 4, 2011

Blast from the past!

"Where did you find that???" Nancy was doing some re-arranging and came across some old "stuff"...

I had almost forgotten the era of the "WinkieMobile". It's not such a bad name when you know that it was in honor of my old shop supervisor, Winston, an aging, but wonderful, Springer Spaniel, who was around for the building of all fourteen of them.

I know that I have many better shots of them somewhere, but these are available now and bring back some memories of the little car that we used to make, that we thought was a bit special. Unfortunately, it had over 300 parts to each one and we were unable to get back anywhere near what we put into them. Still, they hold a special place in my memory.

There was an evolution that came from the basic idea of it. A little car that was made of fine woods, with all sorts of features that kids might like. The hood opened and inside was a brightly colored engine with removeable spark plugs, air filter and the engine block came out too. Beneath that was the sophisticated steering system, operated using spindles and nylon rope to absorb shock. The trunk opened and contained a wrench made from maple, as well as a threaded jackstand so that the tires could be changed, or exchanged, with the spare which was held to the trunk lid by a maple "bolt" large enough to easily be turned by small hands. The wrench could also be used to extend the length of the car by unscrewing some maple nuts under the frame and sliding the the rear portion  of the car either forward or back.

That evolution started with visiting a friend's toy store and finding out that there was much more involved than looks. The next step was to have it kid-tested and they virtually destroyed the first designs in minutes. We still have those cars. Finally, the, much more solid, WM3 design was adopted and everyone loved it, but...

What was special about the cars was that they were made from very fine hardwoods. They were all painted with a lacquer-like feel to their painted surfaces, but all finishes were done with water-based paints.With all of the parts involved, we had to create a lot of special templates and jigs. It took from four to eight months to build one.

Although "Fire Engine Red" was the most popular color, we also made them in White, Dark Blue, Yellow, and Teal. The seats were usually "book-matched" as in the white one above. The lighter wood is Tiger Oak and the darker wood is Black Walnut. We made their seats from Birds-Eye Maple, Black Walnut Burl, Koa and some other very interesting woods. The steering wheels were made from Purpleheart, Mahogany, Maple, and others. The bumpers of the white car above were made from Purpleheart. The bumpers went through an interesting evolution of shapes, the first being made as assemblies to form springs from Ash, changing to solid shapes that had "fiddle heads" carved into their ends. That was some interesting carving.

The last WinkieMobile was a custom order. You can see the "fiddleheads" on the ends of the bumpers. The seats were book-matched Black Walnut Burl with Ash trim. It had a gold-lettered license plate. The hinges of the trunk lid were made from Koa.

Every now and then someone remembers that we used to make "those little cars". They were probably doomed from the start. We charged about $500, which didn't come close to covering costs. We were faced with people saying: "Why would my kid want that? They have a battey powered jeep and I didn't pay that much." We even had offers to have them made overseas for us. Our answer then was no and it would be the same now. To make them properly, you have to love them and nobody else would do that.

It's a moot point now. Hurricane Isabel flooded our shop in 2003 and we lost many of the necessary templates and jigs required to make "those little cars".  We had pretty much moved over to making only boat models by that time anyway, because they were in high demand.

Still, I have some good memories of "those little cars". Perhaps I'll find some of those other photos, so you can see the engines, the steering mechanisms and the chassis...

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