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Part of the charming special section opener illustration, by Juan Leguizamon, for MAKE Volume 26

As you likely know, the next issue of MAKE, now wending its way to subscribers (hitting newsstands by April 26) , is themed “Karts and Wheels.” While working on it, and its numerous projects and features (covering go-karts, scooters, skateboards, motorized bikes, and the like), it was hard for us not to look wistfully out of the window and go off on some fond tale of the crazy contraptions we fashioned ourselves as kids. Everybody has a go-kart (or other youthful rec vehicle) story. What’s yours? Please tell us about it in the comments below. Maybe this will help whet your whistle for taking on a project or two from the coming issue. There are some great ones, such as the drill-powered go-kart on the cover, that you can build in a weekend.

From the Pages of MAKE

MAKE Volume 26: Karts and Wheels
Garage go-kart building is a time-honored tradition for DIYers, In this issue of MAKE, we’ll show you how to build wheeled wonders that’ll have you and the kids racing around the neighborhood in epic DIY style. Build a longboard skateboard by bending plywood and build a crazy go-kart driven by a pair of battery-powered drills. Put a mini gasoline engine on a bicycle. And construct an amazing wind-powered cart that can outrun a tailwind. Plus you’ll learn how to build the winning vehicle from our online Karts and Wheels contest! In addition to karts, you’ll find plenty of other projects that only MAKE can offer! Subscribe here.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    What happened to the PDF version of MAKE? I’m a subscriber to the digital edition, too, and can only find the online version. Can’t exactly take that on the subway with me…

    1. Anonymous says:

      The PDF versions of MAKE are not part of the digital edition subscription, just the browser-based magazine. PDFs are available in the Maker Shed here: http://www.makershed.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=EMKCC01

      1. Anonymous says:

        They were when I purchased my subscription. I have several that I keep in my Dropbox for whenever the mood strikes me. I feel duped.

        1. The PDFs have never been part of the digital edition – or at least not intentionally. You can read about how they were hacked here: http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2010/08/how-to-hack-the-make-digital-editio.html The digital edition has always been offered as a free browser-based add-on to a print subscription. However, it’s open for printing so you can always print to PDF. Or, if you want DRM-free PDFs they’re available at the Maker Shed.

        2. As Heather said, basically the full PDF versions were accessible through a security hole in the online-book-viewer company’s website that an enterprising hacker found :) I’d imagine they’ve since closed that hole, though, since that was their business, and the ‘hack’ worked on every single one of their magazines.

  2. I race with the Ventura Underground League of Gravity Racers (V.U.L.G.R.) and am looking forward to cribbing what I can from this issue. Anything to come up with strong chassis, cheap aero and decreased rolling resistance is a plus.

  3. Adam McGoon says:

    When I was a kid my dad had an old racing kart that he had driven in college. By the time I was born it no longer worked and it didn’t for a while, but none the less my brother and I would take turns pushing it up a hill and riding it back down.

    It was my brother’s turn and we had just reached the top of the hill. I waited for him to sit down and then I pushed. For several seconds I didn’t know what was happening, but when my synapses clicked I realized that I hadn’t let go of the go-kart! So there I was dragging on the asphalt behind the kart frozen in fear, I just couldn’t let go. I was lucky enough to not have been hurt, but I gave my dad quite a scare when he looked over to see two feet flailing behind my brother.

    those were the days…

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have so many sad tales of being a kid and dying to build a go-kart. My friends and I spent countless hours scrounging parts and trying to build something, anything, motorized, fast, and slightly dangerous. But we had no knowledge whatsoever about engines, or welding, or steering mechanisms, and no access to metalworking tools. Once we found a rusted lawnmower engine in the garbage and we spent countless hours taking it apart and trying to breath life into it, but it would have taken Dr. Frankenstein, ’cause it was good and dead, the piston frozen solid..

    We’d usually end up with a push-cart made from half a piece of plywood with a plastic chair seat bucket bolted to it, some 1x4s for bracing and for a steering mechanism and axle mounts, lawnmower tires (or air tires when we got REALLY lucky) and good ol’ rope steering. Once we had one with a steering wheel and a proper steering rod and that felt like a major accomplishment.

    The one really amazing go-kart memory I have was going with my uncle and cousin (who raced go-karts) to a really fancy track in Framingham, MA, which had super-fast karts and pro-like track. I really felt like I was in a racecar, where the car is going so fast, the terrain blurring by you, that you barely have time to think but you get into that zone where time seems to slow down. An exhilarating feeling.

  5. Paul says:

    Good timing :) My 6 year old daughter designed a go-kart out of the blue last month, so I helped her to build it.

    http://www.fangletronics.com/2011/03/kid-made-go-kart.html

    It’s still going strong!

    I have very fond memories of the go-karts my granddad built for me and my brother. We lived up a steep hill, so they caused a lot of injuries, but they were a hell of a lot of fun!

  6. Anonymous says:

    My other “Kart” story is from when I was younger. Some friends and I attached three skateboards together and they lashed that assembly to the underside of a refrigerator box. We cut some widows and doors in the sides of the box and front and back windows. Then we climbed in and held on for deal life as our Kamikaze car hurled hellbound down a steep hill in Colonial Heights, VA. Top-heavy. No steering. No breaks. Sheer idiocy. Fun as hell.

    1. Craig Corbin says:

      A fridge,,, Baller!

  7. Aj Armas says:

    My dad built me and my brother a go cart when we were younger. It started out as a vintage go kart, out of a neighbors back yard. One seat, and a full roll cage. Put in a custom suspension, 4 point seat belt, and an 8 horse lawn mower engine. It was fun for a while, but than we decided it need more power, and put in a 2 cylinder snow mobile motor engine in it. I was like 12, and it topped out at 70 mph, so it was awesome. Unfortunetely It got stolen out of a friends back yard. Though we do still have another snow mobile engine, so maybe I will put a new go kart for the engine, on my list of things to make.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Oh, man, gokarts.

    (some of this is reprinted from an email I just sent to Mark Frauenfelder)

    I grew up in a suburban outpost that had lots of hilly roads that didn’t have houses built around them yet, and all the kids in the neighborhood built rickety wooden death-traps (no adult supervision) with lawnmower, or wagon wheels, and we would race them downhill until the front ends or wheels fell off. It was dangerous fun. Then I bought a dilapidated mini-bike that was some neighbor girl’s older brother’s cast-off diy project, and fixed it up and got it working.

    To have an actual gas-powered steel chassis go cart was the holy grail for me as a 9-12 year old. At some point, I scraped together $40 (shipped!) and ordered one of those go-cart kits from a magazine ad, but I never got around to getting it put together, because it required cutting and welding, despite the promise to the contrary in the ad. I eventually traded the wheels from the kit away in a terrible business deal and was left with just the frame which mocked me until I finally moved out of my parents house.

    Now that I have the means and facilities to build a real go cart, we dont really have the place to run one (or 3).

    Ah, go carts.

  9. Craig Corbin says:

    Growing up in the seventies, in a small town in the mid-west, it took a lot of creativity to keep a 10 year old boy entertained. Most often, my creativity was less than well received by my mother, and even less well received by the local police department. There were many times that creativity drew me the attention of Joplin, Missouri’s finest, the city police. From passing cars too fast on the long downhill road that came into town (while on a 20″ bicycle), to catching rides off the bumpers of the nearest vehicles (on skateboards), I still cringe today each time I hear that first whoop of a police cruiser siren. Thank heavens that my uncle, an Officer on that same force, ran interference on my behalf most often. Of course that just meant that mom got even more juicy info about what I had done. Having raised me alone since my father passed away when I was six, Mom must have really prayed for patience and help each night before going to bed.

    Building stuff was what kept me off the streets. Treehouses, forts, and coaster carts were always being constructed during those years, and a lot of the creativity and encouragement came from my Grandfather Amos. He was a Maker long before anyone ever thought up that term. He was also an enabler of my adventures. Teaching me the value of hard earned wages, Grandpa Amos stepped in as a role model after my father was gone. He would show up at our house most Saturday mornings in his blue Ford pickup, and off he and I would go. We often cut his mother-in-law’s grass, and depending on the season might till the garden, or plant corn or flowers. When the chores were done we would enjoy lunch with her on the back porch. Other days we would collect junk that people no longer wanted, and would spend a few hours stripping out any metals, and taking the rest to the dump. We would take the metals to a recycler, and Grandpa was always generous when he split the profits with me. Late in the afternoon, we somehow always found our way over to the go-kart track. Renting a cart would cost me about a dollar per horsepower for a 15 minute ride. Three, Five, and Ten horsepower carts were available, and I always ponied up the five bucks, never going for the three dollar version. I would have ponied up ten, but for some reason they wouldn’t let me do that. Never understood why…

    Not having the patience to save up for anything gas powered, coaster carts were the technological limit of my creativity. Oh I did have a self-propelled mower that I tried to convert to at one point, the wooden carts just couldn’t hold an engine driven axle well enough, no matter how many nails I wasted. Coaster carts made for quicker gratification anyway.

    Elementary school friends were sometimes prominent figures in the quest for coaster speed. One day my buddy Robert and spied somebody else’s abandoned coaster in a drainage ditch on the side of a road. The cart was trashed, but the back wheels and axle were in great shape. The back wheels were a set of those red plastic wheels one would find on the rear end of a Big Wheel. We quickly adopted them for our own purposes. Arriving at home minutes later, huffing and puffing from the ride, I already had a complete set of construction plans formed in my head. Construction started immediately.

    The finished cart had a set of rubber-treaded lawnmower wheels on the front steering arm, which any good coaster maker can tell you is a two by four with a pivot point in the middle, and our newly acquired red Big Wheel tires and axle on the rear. The driver’s compartment was slab-constructed of plywood donated by a local politician’s campaign efforts. On each vertical slab side, on the inside, was a length of one inch dowel. Each was bolted to the side walls at their bottom as a pivot point, and was oddly painted the same color was one of my mother’s garden rake handles. The tops of these “levers” had lengths of tomato twine that ran down to each side of the front steering arm. You steered it like you would a tank, moving the levers opposite each other to rotate the front steering arm (if tanks used twine). It worked fine as long as you remembered to keep equal and opposite tension on the levers. Brakes were not yet invented for coaster carts. Either that or we just plain didn’t care.

    Tasking Robert with towing duties, he and his bicycle pulled me and the cart out of our gravel driveway, through the neighborhood, and off towards adventure. About 15 minutes later we arrived at the foot of the long winding driveway of the nearby Elks Lodge. Looking up the driveway, he reminded me that that volunteering for towing duty had earned him first ride. Fresh out of brainpower due to the construction plans, I couldn’t form a reasonable argument against this logic, and admitted he was right. I also helped him push the car up the hill. I watched as he climbed in, tested the steering, and said “push!”. I did, and watched with only a little envy as my friend began gaining speed down the winding hill. About two thirds of the way down, probably close to the same instance, the idea of brakes presented itself to both of us. In my mind, this newly considered idea produced only a few well thought cuss-words. Robert was a man of action. He began over-steering the car, swinging the back end out wildy, in order to scrub off some speed. This had the intended effect, and he was able to avoid being shot out onto 32nd street, which was a rather popular county road at that time. It was also quite the spectacle and rather entertaining to watch him get the car slowed, coming to a stop, backwards, with a huge smile on his face.

    That’s right, we invented drifting back in ’73, using plastic wheels and plywood cars.

    I couldn’t get to my turn behind the wheel quick enough. I ran down the hill, and helped him push the car back up. Jumping in and yelling “PUSH”, I began my first descent of many that day. As soon as the car had enough speed, I began throwing the back end of the car around, doing my best to hang the back end out all the way through the sweeping corners of the drive. I could hear those red plastic wheels, chattering and slipping across the pavement, as the back would come around. It was glorious. Our efforts were validated when we heard applause at the end of our next run. We were evidently entertaining enough to watch, that a couple of construction workers had put off their ride home,and instead were perched on the tailgate of their truck, enjoying the spectacle of our driving skills. Supreme validation.

    On the final ride of the day, as the sun was going down, I was in the middle of the final turn with the back end of the car way out in the breeze, and a huge smile on my face. At that moment, the outside rear red plastic wheel, exhausted it’s supply of red plastic with which to feed to asphalt, and collapsed. Later review would reveal that it’s tread area had completely separated from the sidewalls. This allowed the rear axle to contact the asphalt, which demonstrated immediately the shocking affect of traction where there was none before. It also quite well demonstrated the effect of a lever’s mechanical advantage over the body weight of a ten year old boy, when supplied the kinetic energy of a drifting coaster car.

    Provided the instant traction, but only on one side, the car rolled, and I flew out onto the pavement at about the same velocity the car had previously been traveling. There, like the red plastic tires before me, I donated some layers of outer covering to the asphalt gods.

    I walked away with a smile, a broken car, a good friend, a great shared memory, and the knowledge that tomato twine can leave a serious rope burn. Glorious.

  10. I pretty much got interested in engineering through my exploits of building cobbled-together riding lawnmower based go karts, or go-tractors, as I called them with my brothers. There used to be very small riding lawnmowers available that, if you took the deck off, you were left with a simple two-rail frame holding a seat, vertical shaft engine, a transmission, solid rear axle, and steering system. Usually, the original engines were shot or missing, so we’d use small 3.5 horse engines, or whatever we could find. Since they were riding mowers, the gearing was usually pretty slow, so we’d just connect a pedal via steel fence wire directly to the throttle butterfly, so there was no governor. It was hard to get a reliable clutch system, so the most common, and entertaining way around that was to open the throttle all the way, then SLAM the transmission into forward or reverse =). sometimes that would result in awesome fishtails, other times, it would just flip over, until we added a huge chunk of metal to the front for ballast, which made steering really difficult, especially when one of the rod ends kept coming apart. (Go get more fence wire!) We had almost none of the metalworking tools we needed, so I learned how to make do with a drill, hacksaw, file, and a vise. We didn’t have any welding gear, so everything was bolted, taped, wired, riveted, or zip-tied together. We had no limits of ingenuity or patience to make up for our lack of tools and money. I discovered a lot about what works and what doesn’t work in mechanical design.

    The best one we made was composed of the front of one mower grafted to the back of another. It was a much more stable two-seater (inline). With one rider, there was no weight on the back, and it would do awesome fishtails. These things almost never worked for more than a half hour at a time; the engines would not run, or the chain would break, or the seat mount would break, or the belt system would fail, or the transmission would come apart (wonder why?). Once, the steel plate that mounted the transmission and engine bent and cracked, and so the v-belt sheave was at an angle to the engine sheave, so the sheave spokes kept fatiguing and breaking from the side load. I fixed that by hammering out the mounting plate and bolting on some kind of doubler, then getting an all-steel rather than die-cast pulley.

    Yep, those days were the best. I wonder what I could build now, with the resources I have at hand? Now I know what to do the next time I need a “stay-cation”!

  11. Craig Corbin says:

    Growing up in the seventies, in a small town in the mid-west, it took a lot of creativity to keep a 10 year old boy entertained. Most often, my creativity was less than well received by my mother, and even less well received by the local police department. There were many times that creativity drew me the attention of Joplin, Missouri’s finest, the city police. From passing cars too fast on the long downhill road that came into town (while on a 20″ bicycle), to catching rides off the bumpers of the nearest vehicles (on skateboards), I still cringe today each time I hear that first whoop of a police cruiser siren. Thank heavens that my uncle, an Officer on that same force, ran interference on my behalf most often. Of course that just meant that mom got even more juicy info about what I had done. Having raised me alone since my father passed away when I was six, Mom must have really prayed for patience and help each night before going to bed.

    Building stuff was what kept me off the streets. Treehouses, forts, and coaster carts were always being constructed during those years, and a lot of the creativity and encouragement came from my Grandfather Amos. He was a Maker long before anyone ever thought up that term. He was also an enabler of my adventures. Teaching me the value of hard earned wages, Grandpa Amos stepped in as a role model after my father was gone. He would show up at our house most Saturday mornings in his blue Ford pickup, and off he and I would go. We often cut his mother-in-law’s grass, and depending on the season might till the garden, or plant corn or flowers. When the chores were done we would enjoy lunch with her on the back porch. Other days we would collect junk that people no longer wanted, and would spend a few hours stripping out any metals, and taking the rest to the dump. We would take the metals to a recycler, and Grandpa was always generous when he split the profits with me. Late in the afternoon, we somehow always found our way over to the go-kart track. Renting a cart would cost me about a dollar per horsepower for a 15 minute ride. Three, Five, and Ten horsepower carts were available, and I always ponied up the five bucks, never going for the three dollar version. I would have ponied up ten, but for some reason they wouldn’t let me do that. Never understood why…

  12. Craig Corbin says:

    Part Two! See earlier post for part one.

    Not having the patience to save up for anything gas powered, coaster carts were the technological limit of my creativity. Oh I did have a self-propelled mower that I tried to convert to at one point, the wooden carts just couldn’t hold an engine driven axle well enough, no matter how many nails I wasted. Coaster carts made for quicker gratification anyway.

    Elementary school friends were sometimes prominent figures in the quest for coaster speed. One day my buddy Robert and spied somebody else’s abandoned coaster in a drainage ditch on the side of a road. The cart was trashed, but the back wheels and axle were in great shape. The back wheels were a set of those red plastic wheels one would find on the rear end of a Big Wheel. We quickly adopted them for our own purposes. Arriving at home minutes later, huffing and puffing from the ride, I already had a complete set of construction plans formed in my head. Construction started immediately.

    The finished cart had a set of rubber-treaded lawnmower wheels on the front steering arm, which any good coaster maker can tell you is a two by four with a pivot point in the middle, and our newly acquired red Big Wheel tires and axle on the rear. The driver’s compartment was slab-constructed of plywood donated by a local politician’s campaign efforts. On each vertical slab side, on the inside, was a length of one inch dowel. Each was bolted to the side walls at their bottom as a pivot point, and was oddly painted the same color was one of my mother’s garden rake handles. The tops of these “levers” had lengths of tomato twine that ran down to each side of the front steering arm. You steered it like you would a tank, moving the levers opposite each other to rotate the front steering arm (if tanks used twine). It worked fine as long as you remembered to keep equal and opposite tension on the levers. Brakes were not yet invented for coaster carts. Either that or we just plain didn’t care.

  13. Craig Corbin says:

    Part Three (See earlier post for part one!)

    Tasking Robert with towing duties, he and his bicycle pulled me and the cart out of our gravel driveway, through the neighborhood, and off towards adventure. About 15 minutes later we arrived at the foot of the long winding driveway of the nearby Elks Lodge. Looking up the driveway, he reminded me that that volunteering for towing duty had earned him first ride. Fresh out of brainpower due to the construction plans, I couldn’t form a reasonable argument against this logic, and admitted he was right. I also helped him push the car up the hill. I watched as he climbed in, tested the steering, and said “push!”. I did, and watched with only a little envy as my friend began gaining speed down the winding hill. About two thirds of the way down, probably close to the same instance, the idea of brakes presented itself to both of us. In my mind, this newly considered idea produced only a few well thought cuss-words. Robert was a man of action. He began over-steering the car, swinging the back end out wildy, in order to scrub off some speed. This had the intended effect, and he was able to avoid being shot out onto 32nd street, which was a rather popular county road at that time. It was also quite the spectacle and rather entertaining to watch him get the car slowed, coming to a stop, backwards, with a huge smile on his face.

    That’s right, we invented drifting back in ’73, using plastic wheels and plywood cars.

    I couldn’t get to my turn behind the wheel quick enough. I ran down the hill, and helped him push the car back up. Jumping in and yelling “PUSH”, I began my first descent of many that day. As soon as the car had enough speed, I began throwing the back end of the car around, doing my best to hang the back end out all the way through the sweeping corners of the drive. I could hear those red plastic wheels, chattering and slipping across the pavement, as the back would come around. It was glorious. Our efforts were validated when we heard applause at the end of our next run. We were evidently entertaining enough to watch, that a couple of construction workers had put off their ride home,and instead were perched on the tailgate of their truck, enjoying the spectacle of our driving skills. Supreme validation.

  14. Craig Corbin says:

    Part Four (See earlier post for part one.)

    On the final ride of the day, as the sun was going down, I was in the middle of the final turn with the back end of the car way out in the breeze, and a huge smile on my face. At that moment, the outside rear red plastic wheel, exhausted it’s supply of red plastic with which to feed to asphalt, and collapsed. Later review would reveal that it’s tread area had completely separated from the sidewalls. This allowed the rear axle to contact the asphalt, which demonstrated immediately the shocking affect of traction where there was none before. It also quite well demonstrated the effect of a lever’s mechanical advantage over the body weight of a ten year old boy, when supplied the kinetic energy of a drifting coaster car.

    Provided the instant traction, but only on one side, the car rolled, and I flew out onto the pavement at about the same velocity the car had previously been traveling. There, like the red plastic tires before me, I donated some layers of outer covering to the asphalt gods.

    I walked away with a smile, a broken car, a good friend, a great shared memory, and the knowledge that tomato twine can leave a serious rope burn. Glorious.