WASILLA, Alaska – Ever miss your childhood days riding around in a red wagon?
A Wasilla, Alaska, couple has the answer: A full-sized pickup that has been converted into a giant red Radio Flyer.
Fred Keller and Judy Foster worked on the vehicle for 11 months, using the base of a 1976 Mazda B1600 pickup truck.
The couple got the idea for their to-scale replica of the beloved childhood wagon after visiting a car show in summer 2009 in Oregon, and seeing another Radio Flyer, albeit that one on a hot rod.
"We said, 'We could use the Mazda for that,'" Foster, 67, said of the pickup which had sat undriven for about five years at their home. "We came home from our Portland trip, and about a day after, he was tearing the Mazda apart. No changing my mind."
Keller, a 68-year-old retired telephone worker, had all the expertise in composite construction he needed to convert the pickup. His hobby is building home aircraft, and this wasn't too different.
"The basic structure of the wagon is marine plywood, foam, fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin," he said. "It's a very strong structure."
Many components of the Mazda are still in the flyer: instrument panel, steering column, levels, frame and engine.
Keller completed the frame, added smaller wheels, hubcaps painted white and used old laundry detergent caps for the hubs.
He also constructed the 8-foot tall handle from PVC piping wrapped in fiberglass, which rises from the front bumper high over the windshield.
The steering wheel is also an homage to all things wagons, a wheel that could be used on a wagon or cart. There's no storage space on the wagon, so Fred made an especially wide and deep glove compartment.
The wagon was completed in August after making a few adjustments required by the state motor vehicles department (windshield, mudflaps, more lights) to make it street legal.
Since then, it's been an instant hit whether they're driving around Wasilla or taking the 50-mile trip to Anchorage.
"They wave at us, they honk at us, they give us a 'Hi' sign, a thumbs up. They congregate around us when we park," she said.
Sometimes people follow them for blocks, waiting for them to pull over to get a closer look.
Both Foster and Keller had Radio Flyer wagons growing up — she in Kansas, he in Kentucky. For them, the childhood memories came flooding back in the monthslong conversion project.
Keller says he and his four siblings used to pull each other in their wagon, and he'd sometimes even hook it up to a "lawn mower and things of that nature to get some extra fun," he said.
And now, when people see their giant wagon rolling down the street, it brings back their own childhood memories.
"It's just really happy memories, it seems like," Foster said.
Keller jokes the wagon has another benefit.
When driving one day, he pulled up to two women from his neighborhood to say hello.
"One of them looked down and says, 'Now THAT is a chick magnet there.' So, made my day, you know," he said.
They didn't seek permission from the Chicago-based Radio Flyer to use the logo on the side of the extra large wagon.
"We thought we'd just go ahead and try it," Keller said. "We're not out to do anything for them, or against them or anything like that. We like their product, and we just hope it maybe promotes their product," he said.
A message left after hours Monday evening with Radio Flyer wasn't immediately returned.
Keller said the Radio Flyer is "a very solid ride." They added racing seats to hold them in a little better.
"It holds the road really well on country roads, so you kind of get the sensation of driving a sports car."
One possible drawback for the Radio Flyer, especially in Alaska, is that it's a convertible.
He considered building a temporary top on it for winter use but eventually decided against it.
"We recognize it is a convertible, and to get its true meaning and everything, you really need to keep it such and try to keep it from looking as much like a car as possible," he said.
So it will go into winter storage, but the couple already has big plans for when warmer weather and community parades return.
"We're going to be having a blast with it," he said. "The one thing we both enjoy about the car is just the smiles it puts on people's faces."