Like most boys age 1-5, I believe my son is in the majority when I say he loves trains. Brayden’s favorite is the green number 6, Percy of the Thomas the Train series. This summer, we took our 18 month old son to “A Day out with Thomas” in Boone, Iowa. There we saw a boy being pulled around in a cute wagon converted into a train using cardboard and other homemade materials. Of course, he loved it. My wife asked me if I could make one, almost challenging me. My issue was that it was raining and the cardboard was falling apart.
I decided if I was going to build a Homemade Percy Costume , I was not going to mess around. I have a few advantages. I am an art teacher and I design and build houses, so I have a few advantages. My wife calls me a packrat, but there are advantages to not throwing stuff away. I just finished building an office at our house and used only scrap plywood from all of my own projects. I also had a bunch of broken drums and 55 gallon barrels because I teach the drumline at my high school. All of these things came in handy.
So, I told my wife I was building something a few weeks before Christmas, so not to come out to the garage. Then it was time to work. I had a couple little pictures, a 2 inch toy and a quick sketch. I started to cut the plywood on the table saw and make the seating area first. The hard part was bending the top piece. I built a pretty strong base with supports running inside. I luckily had a piece of 3″x3″ ¼” oak plywood that was leaning into a wall for a couple of years and had a pretty good curve. It had a great start. I used a air stapler, clamps and wood glue. A little trim, wood putty and sanding and it looked pretty good.
I built a little seat out of the left over scrap of an oak stair tread. It was too small to ever use for anything else. Man I was excited, but so far to go. I then basically built a pull cart and put the interior on top. I also planned to make it like a bob sled where an adult could stand on the back and watch him while riding. The wheels had to be strong, so I went to Harbor Freight and bought one set of 10″ set pneumatic castors and one set of 10″ pivoting.
I had gotten to the point deciding this was over kill and not going to be a push cart. I put the pivot wheels on the front and decided I was going to have to pull this with the tractor or a Gator. I cut a metal 55 gallon drum and built a cradle for this to set in. I then cut a broken bass drum down and fastened this to the front.
It was time for the face. I took small scrap and nailed it to the face. I then used drywall compound and fiberglass to build up the face. This is an easy material to add to and sand. If I was really going all out, I should have gotten fiberglass resin and built it stronger. I believe the details of the bright colors, airbrushing the face and including Brayden’s name on the logo and adding some metal pieces really made it stand out. I also put a little push light and a dry erase board inside to keep him busy.
Believe it or not, but my dad had an old 1 ½” Reece hitch rusting away that he wouldn’t use. I also had a 1 ½’ square tube that I added a ball hitch onto the other end to connect to the tractor. This way, I could pull an easy pin and take the 3 ½’ bar off while inside so no one ran in to it. I pulled a bunch of all nighters, literally and by Christmas Eve, it was done.
The look on Brayden’s and my wives face, who still had no idea, literally brought me to tears. That moment made everything I did more than worth it. I just assigned my AP Studio Art class a meaningful gift assignment being graded on how well they brought that person, or even themselves, to tears. We just had Brayden’s second birthday, and Percy was a huge hit. People were in disbelief and multiple kids piled in and waited their turn. It held up to where the cardboard version would have been ruined in one day.
There is still more in works with sound effects and smoke for the funnel. Brayden wants to be the engineer for Halloween this year and we have a few plans for a local parade.
One of the main reasons I did this is because it was a challenge and it was fun. It probably would be no good if I was doing this for money because I put way too much time into it and it would cost too much. I do want to pass on the ethical idea to my son how to do your absolute best at whatever you do in life. As a teacher, my students are very interested in my work and seeing the next project with the idea of how to “go big or go home” as we always say it. My policy is to always challenge yourself in life to make it meaningful with everything you do.
Thanks for your time. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them. I also have plenty of other specific pictures in progress. I am in progress for the next crazy project.