Swap Wagon

Swap Wagon

Swap Wagon

This little project started with a swap meet acquisition several years ago. A friend of mine brought a Truxedo™ tonneau cover display unit to the Portland Auto Swap Meet that he had acquired somewhere. He put it up for sale, but by the end of the weekend he had no takers. He was contemplating tossing it into the dumpster when I asked to take it off his hands. It’s has a working, scaled-down version of a roll-up tonneau cover and I figured I might be able to buld a frame, add some wheels and turn it into a unique little wagon.  I brought it home from the swap meet and it sat collecting dust in a corner of the garage for several years. I picked up a pair of used-up, split-rim go kart wheels at a swap a few years later. They have Goodyear racing slicks and seemed to be the right size to fill-out the wheel wells.

Now that the new house is done and I have a garage to work in again, I decided to resurrect this as a winter project. I’ve been waffling back and forth about whether to make this a hauler or a custom cooler on wheels. I finally settled on making this a hauler and got to work.

Originally, the plastic pickup bed was molded to about a 3 foot tall base that I removed and discarded. I removed the tonneau cover assembly and took measurements to start fabricating a frame out of 1″ square tube. For simplicity’s sake, I decided to use a solid axle and mount it to the frame with pillow block bearings.

Home made axle

Home made axle

The problem I had with finding an axle was that I needed a stepped axle that went from 1″ down to 3/4″ at the threaded ends. The go kart wheels wheels require this type of axle mounting. I found axles at karting supply shops online, but they were expensive and too wide for my application. So, I cut some 1″ OD pipe to length and  cut the heads off 3/4″ bolts that inserted almost perfectly into the pipe and welded them in place.

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Basic frame

I test mounted the pillow block bearings on the frame, installed the axel and mounted the go kart wheels. Up front, I added a swivel caster. So far, it’s not looking to bad. Time to test fit the bed.

Test fitting the bed

Test fitting the bed

The initial test fit of the bed doesn’t look good. The bed rides far too high in relation to the wheels. I knew it would ride a bit high, but this is way too high. I like the ride height of the frame because it gives good ground clearance and puts the axle below the frame where it should be. But, it looks like I’m going to have to change things. The construction of the bed doesn’t allow it to mount any differently so, I have to change the mounting of the axle and wheels. The only workable (and cheap) solution is to basically, turn the frame upside-down so that the axle is on top of the frame. It also requires cutting some more material from the wheel wells on the bed.

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Home made “differential”

A secondary issue is that the single, solid axle doesn’t allow the cart to turn very well. It’s like having a locked differential on a car. When you turn a corner, the outer wheel needs to spin faster than the inner wheel. A solid axle forces both wheels t to turn at the same speed. So, one of the wheels is forced to skid across the surface when turning. I knew this would be the case, but I figured it would be no big deal with a little pull cart. Unfortunately, this cart is heavier than I planned and it needs to be pretty maneuverable when pulling it around. So, another unplanned change: I had to split the solid axle into two independent axles. I accomplished this on the cheap by finding some inexpensive bearings and mounting them into a carrier made from a threaded pipe coupling.

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Bed installed

It’s turning out pretty well so far. The wheels now spin independently of each other and allow the wagon to turn much more easily. The ride height is much better looking. Now I need to figure out how to mount a floor in the bed and fabricate a pull handle of some kind, I envision a pull handle that looks like a stick-shift lever with a Hurst T-Handle shift knob….

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Pine floor installed

I fabricated a raised frame for the pine floor of the bed and got everything installed. I think it turned out pretty cool.

I finally finished this project in March. Just in time for the big April swap meet in Portland, OR.

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