Our touring handcar was designed by Mason Clark and hand built in our workshop. Each of our 14 touring handcars require approximately 400 hours to fabricate. There is a lot involved in their construction and on this page we will share portions of the process.
It takes about 500 hours of fabrication to get a handcar ready to roll. The videos and photos below offer a glimpse into the process of fabricating our touring handcars.
There are hundreds of holes in each handcar that are precision drilled using CNC mill. It is important to have the bores in the precise location otherwise the frames will not bolt together
After the holes are bored aluminum spacers are welded into each hole.
After spacers are welded into each bore the tubes are ground and sanded smooth before aluminum treatment, priming, and painting.
Our touring handcar uses six spur gears in its drivetrain. Suitable off the shelf gears are not available so we manufactured our own gears. We fabricated a foundry pattern and has blanks poured with iron. We then machined each gear on our Leblond engine lathe built in 1963 as seen in the video. Next, the gears are sent to a gear shop for the teeth to be hobbed into the blank. Finally, the gears are sent to a broach shop to cut a keyway that holds the gear onto the crankshaft.
Some of the gears ready to be installed into the drive assemblies.
Aluminum is machined from tube to create the flat edges for the sleeves that the wooden pump handles slide through. These two machines are known as knee mills and were once the mainstay of American manufacturing plants. The machine on the left was built in 1976, and the machine on the right was built in 1982. Both were manufactured by Bridgeport Machines Incorporated.
Our touring handcars use hallow tubed axles and creating them requires liquid nitrogen. First the precision turned center tube is heated up while the axle stubs on each end is bathed in liquid nitrogen. The heating expands the tube, and the freezing shrinks to end stubs. The stub is then dropped into the pipe and within seconds the pipe expands and the stub shrinks, holding the parts together.
Each handcar is adorned by four bronze plaques. Making bronze is a time honored tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The process starts with a foundry pattern that we 3D printed with the design. The pattern makes an impression in oil impregnated sand and molten bronze is poured into the cavity making the plaque. Bronze is made by mixing 90% copper with 10% tin. Bronze is tricky to work with because it is not as viscous as other metals so it requires care in creating the pathways known as gates for the metal to flow and fill the voids.
Folks find it hard to understand why it takes 500 hours to build a single handcar. Work takes time as evidence by the above boring operation. Just installing the bronze plaques requires hundreds of holes to be drilled, and then hundred of counter sinks to be bored. All need to be drilled with precision to ensure they line up properly on the handcar.
There are hundreds of parts for each car that need to be fabricated. These are seat belt brackets that returned from the plating plant with a zinc chromate coating and will be painted with polyurethane before installation.
This is a custom aluminum extrusion we commissioned for the seat to mount to the frame. This requires a custom die to be fabricated and the aluminum is forced through under great pressure to make the desired shape. It has been anodized black.
It requires a huge amount of hardwood to build our handcars. The wheels are fabricated from white and hard maple, and the rear stowage boxes use white ash.
Wheel spokes are milled by hand using our table saw, bandsaw, and router to ensure they are of the exacting size. If the spokes are off even a tiny fraction the wheels will not piece together correctly. For this reason we have a set of precision tooling for building out wheels.
This how you trim a wheel round using a table saw. The wheel is pivoted on a shaft that is mounted a set distance from the saw blade. Watch the video to see how the wheel is cut.
After the table saw cut the wheel is then precision trimmed using a belt sander to hone for the absolute perfect fit into the handcar wheel rim.
Completed wheel ready for installation. Each wheel requires 10 hours of labor to complete.
Handcars in various stages of assembly. The yellow tool box holds the thousands of fasteners required to put the handcar together.
It gets quite crowded in the shop as cars come together.
Completed handcars receiving finishing touches before leaving the shop.