Thursday, January 3, 2008

How to Rebuild a Plastic Tricycle


When I got up this morning, my son Lucas brought me the pieces of his plastic tricycle, or velotro as they are called in Portuguese. I would have loved to have bought him one of those little plastic cars you see everywhere in the States, but they aren't widely available here and the ones that are are horribly expensive. And poorly made.

Not that the trike was well made- one of the 'hubs' stripped its plastic threads and the wheels fell off. It's been busted for a couple months now. I've seen him scootch along on the thing, pretending to ride it even though it lacked two of its three wheels.

I'd been meaning to fix it since it broke. I decided I'd go ahead and do it today. Unfortunately, when he brought me the pieces, he didn't bring all of them- the axle and the damn 'hubs' were missing. I can't stand searching for things, and when none of the obvious hiding places yielded them up, I decided to improvise.

My family is full of tinkerers, and I'm one of them. I love to mess with tools, fix things, etc. I'm pretty good at it too, but my problem is that it takes me forever to fix anything. So, knowing I was going to waste at least a couple hours on a $20 toy I embarked on a reengineering of the tricycle.

The problem was, beyond the axle being missing, that all the weight previously being placed upon it had been supported by two square inches of plastic, one on either side, which was getting all bunched up and broken. The weight those two square inches had been asked to bear was considerable, when you consider the force of my large 10 year old stepson bearing down on it to push the little guy around. This was a problem I had noticed some time ago, and I had a solution all worked out.

I carved open the belly of the thing with a utility knife, and cut a plywood 'frame' to fit snugly inside the empty cavity. Then I nailed on a couple spacers, and cut a notch in a piece of hardwood (tropical, naturally- this is Brazil after all) to accommodate the axle. Then a couple braces were nailed onto that, to keep it from pulling loose from the frame. All this was fitted into the body of the trike, and screwed into place. I had a threaded rod left over from the restoration of our staircase that became the new axle. And after much banging and sawing (I used three power tools, but no ruler- this was just a cheap kid's toy after all) it was restored- better than new! Now the weight on the axle is ingeniously distributed across the whole body of the toy, not just on those suffering square inches of extruded plastic. Damn I'm good. And I didn't waste a single penny on anything- it was all stuff I had kicking around the house.

Better yet, when Lucas woke up from his nap and climbed on the thing, he actually started pedaling- a new skill for him. Of course, after two hours of my labor the toy only held his interest for about five minutes, but hey. It's fixed now. Mark one off my long list of handyman projects. too bad it wasn't a little higher on the list.

The last time I did a similar carpentry/engineering project was when I transformed Lucas' crib into a child bed- taking off one of the side panels and building an elaborate railing that keeps him from falling out of bed. What's elaborate about it is that it's rigged so that he can climb over the railing, and probably stand and jump up and down on it, without it ripping loose from the cheapo particle board that the rest of the crib is made of. It's also made of tropical hardwood and was constructed entirely from stuff I had in the house. This is the good thing about not throwing anything away.

With any luck, my next project will be the new office that I am looking to rent- finally moving the home office out of the home. This is an attempt at rescuing my sanity and getting on a normal schedule, instead of waiting for the kids to go to sleep to get any work done. I may have the key in hand tomorrow, but then again, I thought I'd have it last week so we'll see how it goes.

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