Douglas L Perry, The Author blog

January 1, 2009

Homemade Death Machine

Filed under: Stories — douglaslperry @ 7:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It was fast, it was unstable, and oh so dangerous, would all of us survive to tell the tale? Read on.

As a young man I loved to build things. If it wasn’t an Erector set, or Tinkertoys, we were building go-karts from old pieces of push wagons and scraps of wood. At around age 13 I got the wild hair to build my own minibike. I scrounged around and found a couple of old wheels from decrepit wheelbarrows, handlebars and forks from and old bicycle, and an engine from a lawnmower that had seen better days. 

I had one of the best fathers a kid could ask for, so when I told him my plan, he agreed to help weld the parts together. He came up with the idea to make the frame out of 3/4″ EMT galvanized pipe, the kind that we used everywhere for our electrical work. He created a frame 3 foot long and 2 feet high that was shaped as a parallelogram, you know a rectangle that’s been pulled at an angle. 

To the acute angle up front he attached the bicycle forks. At the top he welded the pipes together. Along the bottom he welded a piece of sheet steel to serve as the engine mount. He welded a fan pulley from an old furnace to the rear wheel, and we attached handlebars from one of my old stingray bikes. 

The engine was from a scroll mower made by the REO corporation that I scavenged from my grandfather’s farm. The unique feature was that the crankshaft exited the side of the mower, instead of the bottom. This allowed us to use a direct belt drive from the side of the motor instead of needing a transmission. Also the side shaft engine was more compact in the frame. 

We mounted the engine on a hinge mechanism so that the drive belt could be loosened and tightened as the hinge moved. A small shaft attached to the front of the motor allowed foot control of the drive. 

Once everything was put together, I took it for a test drive. Amazingly, it worked pretty darn good, except for two little problems. The first was that the lack of rake on the front fork, coupled with the small tires, made for a machine so twitchy, that any little movement sent it wildly flying off in that direction. The subsequent over-correction to straighten it out, made for quite the crazy ride.

The second was a complete lack of brakes. Since wheelbarrow wheels don’t normally have brakes built into them, we were pretty much stuck to what we could add. My dad came up with an ingenious device that when we pushed on a foot lever, would rub on the rear tire. It worked, sort of. 

My brother and I took turns riding it around the block and we found that it ran pretty good, but it wasn’t very fast. It probably went 20 mph top speed. That just wasn’t fast enough. Even though we had no helmet, or safety gear of any kind, and brakes that were marginal at best, we thought it needed to go faster. Ah, the confidence of youth. 

What we found was that the engine had a governor on it. A mechanism that only let the engine spin so fast, then a spring mechanism would kick in, and keep the motor at that speed. That turned out to be limiting our top speed. 

After we dispatched the governor, we took it for another test ride. Now this thing was fast. We blasted down the sidewalk, keeping up with cars on the street. Yeah, like that was safe….

I finally got a real motorcycle, well an oversize scooter (Bridgestone 50) from a neighbor, that had a speedometer and we came up with a plan to test how fast our minibike would go. We hauled the scooter and the minibike out to my grandfather’s farm and picked out a road for the speed run. 

We stayed away from the main highways because my father was worried about cars. Like that was the only thing he should be worried about. We picked out one of the mile roads that led to the farm and got set to go. Did I mention that it was a gravel road? Did I mention that there were piles of loose gravel all over the road? Did I mention that the thing was twitchy? 

We set off side by side, my brother (the test pilot) on the minibike, and me on the scooter. That darn minibke topped out at an incredible 45 mph, the engine screaming out a shrieking note. I expected at any moment it would fly to pieces, lock up the rear tire, and I would see my brother sliding down the road. But it held together and we started to slow down for the upcoming corner.

That was when he hit a loose pile of gravel. The front tire slid through the pile of rocks and dirt, turned toward the inside of the corner, and the bike went streaking toward the ditch. After a few precarious over-corrections and slides, my brother finally got it somewhat under control, and we skidded to a stop perched on the edge of the ditch. 

Of course since we were just young kids, we laughed it off, and rode back to the farm, slower this time. 

I think about how many times that we did things as a kid that could have killed us, and I agree with my brother. If we were cats we would be on life 8.9.


  1. A wonderful story…I hope you are compiling your stories, They will make fun book of short stories

    Comment by themotoworld — January 3, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I haven’t yet, but I plan on it a little later.

    Comment by douglaslperry — January 3, 2009 @ 11:32 pm

  3. de.light.ful. indeed 🙂 the unadulterated freedom and joy of youth back in the day — totally worth every scrape and bruise and mishap, yeah?

    there’d probably be someone dialing child protection services today…or someone trying to kidnap you off the street…or a lawyer…oh what am i doing? ruining a perfectly good story? my apologies! ruminate onward!!

    Comment by Alex Moore — January 5, 2009 @ 3:29 am

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