What’s So New About Battery-Powered Vehicles?

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Courtesy of Richard Stout
The author, aboard his invention.

Sometime in the middle of the 1950s, when I was looking at a boys’ mechanical-type magazine, an ad listed rubber tire wheels for sale. I had several ideas for projects that were unrealized for lack of wheels. I do not remember the price, but at that time a lot of things were post-paid, so I sent for them. To my disgust, when the wheels arrived, they were 6 inches tall instead of the hoped for 10 inches.

After some time, I decided to build a motor scooter. Rounding up parts from a tricycle and some pipe, I proceeded to weld it together. All I had to use was a 110-volt welder, an electric drill, and a hacksaw. I took the engine of my mother’s Choremaster garden tractor. (This was frowned upon: You were not to mess with my mother’s tractor unless you were planning to use it in her garden.) But as the V-belt pulley on the rear wheel was only 4 to 4-1/2 inches in diameter and the engine centrifugal clutch pulley was 2 to 2-1/2 inches in diameter, it was just too fast and could not pull itself. It was relegated to the shed until I got another intuition.

One day in the back of the shop, I ran across an auto starter that someone had adapted to a Hercules engine on a Massey-Harris four-wheel drive tractor that my dad had taken off and laid back. (He said it was simpler to just crank it than to keep all the generating, battery, and starting system going.)

I made a frame to the starter above the scooter’s rear wheel. To slow the speed, I welded a center in a half-worn starter ring gear I found in the scrap pile. At our place, there was always a scrap pile. Maybe it was moved, but it was never hauled off. Someone was always digging through it, looking for something that could be used.

I put a V-pulley on the starter gear to belt to the rear wheel with the tricycle seat on top of all that. Brakes and OSHA were not thought of. (If one got his fingers in the gears and still had them, they knew enough not to get them in there again. One cannot protect someone from himself.) One had to get it to go first, then worry about stopping it when the time came.

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I bolted a 6-volt battery to the frame where the floorboards were supposed to be. I coupled all that up with some old battery cables and a foot starter switch to light it up. Well, it did run around, but as I did not get the ring gear centered just right on the shaft, it made various grinding noises when it ran.

I did not get much use out of the scooter because of its size, but my brother Kenneth and cousin Ira Wagner had quite a time with it, as they were 10 years younger and smaller. Kenneth would ride it around the lots and off a quarter-mile to feed the hogs and check the water. Sometimes he would have to stop to let the battery rejuvenate so he could get back to the house and put it back on the charger. What the first battery was, I do not know: Dad said they could never get any battery afterward to hack it. But my brother ran it until the starter smoked. FC

Richard Stout lives near Washington, Iowa, and is assisted in his writing by his granddaughter, Ashley Stout.

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