Jul 032013

By Julie Wiessner
Rodney Rucker, crazy car builder, calls Winslow home.
He has built a variety of specialty cars, including Rodzilla, which carries an 1800 cubic inch air-cooled tank motor with a 1928 Studebaker body, a 1916 American LeFrance Fire Engine he calls The Duke, a chopped 1950 Peterbilt hot rod semi he calls the Pete-ster, monster trucks, a Ford track monster truck, the stagecoach car, the shopping cart car, and the Flintstones’ car used in the movie.
He has been in many of the Great Race competitions over the years, but recalls the 2007 race in particular due to several problems.
Rucker was driving The Duke fire engine, which was built in El Mira, N.Y. “The race went from Atlanta to Pasadena and we were riding this thing across America with hand brakes,” he recalled.
“It’s chain driven with the steering wheel and shifter located on the right side of the vehicle, next to the brakes. We had to stop, get out and oil the valves with an oil can every couple of hours.”
It is a monster engine at 900 cubic inches, but only puts out 105 horsepower.
During the race of 2007, The Duke blew-up, caught on fire, almost fell through a wooden bridge and some people took shots at him.
“I guess they thought we were revenuers, coming to take their product,” Rucker said of the Ozarks section of the race. “They were just trying to protect their livelihood.
“We placed a plaque in the car, which was referred to often during that race. It said, ‘Never, never, never give up!’”
When asked what got him started making these crazy cars, Rucker said, “During the ‘70s and ‘80s friends of mine and I were watching the Mardi Gras parades in Barstow, Calif., they just got worse and worse every year.” There were a few hot rods and some floats, but, said Rucker, “You could tell they didn’t put much effort into them. My friends and I just stood there shaking our heads and finally said, this parade really needs some help.”
A couple of Rucker’s friends were brothers Eddie and Greg Parker, who owned a towing yard. Anything that came in was bolted on to different vehicles they were creating. Rucker noted, “Greg built a covered wagon car. Not only did he have it in the Barstow parade, but he also gave people rides on a portion of the Mormon Trail that was near Barstow.”
Besides thinking the Barstow parade needed help, Rucker noted, “I just loved creating things.”
When building the shopping cart car, he said he did it backwards: “We went around looking at shopping carts at different shopping centers and built the cart part first. Then we built the chassis to support it.”
The shopping cart car has four radiators, eight cooling fans, two ambulance alternators and is 31 feet long. It’s been used for five weddings, 20 parades and numerous proms.
Rucker said, “You know the saying with real estate is location, location, location. With building cars the saying is design, design, design.”
Another source of inspiration for Rucker was an airplane called the Gee Bee. The main idea behind it, according to him, was, “It was an airplane with the biggest motor in the smallest vehicle.” He has used the same idea when designing many of his vehicles.
American Graffiti, a movie set in 1962 showing what life was like when mixing Modesto, Calif., with teenagers, cruising and the rock-n-roll culture, also inspired Rucker.
Why move from Barstow to Winslow?
“I used to be a military contractor, but wanted to do something different, so checked with the railroad and they said they could use a company like mine. I moved to Winslow to begin work with them,” said Rucker.
His company is Pro Dirt Construction.

Photo courtesy of Rodney Rucker The Duke is a 1916 American LeFrance fire engine Winslow’s Rodney Rucker drove in the 2007 Great Race.

Photo courtesy of Rodney Rucker
The Duke is a 1916 American LeFrance fire engine Winslow’s Rodney Rucker drove in the 2007 Great Race.