The news was a shock to Chuck Redding. At 61, he was diagnosed with cancer.
Redding, owner of Redding’s Auto Service in St. Petersburg, Fla., fell into a funk, and became depressed over his new-begotten illness. His wife told him to build something to keep his mind off the disease. Redding says he saw a little red Western Flyer wagon sitting in the corner of his garage, and the rest is history.
Looking for advice, Redding called up a friend of his in Alaska who had built a car that looked like a Radio Flyer. He got the information he needed, and began building his Western Flyer at a perfect 5:1 scale.
With a 1987 Chevrolet S10 Blazer as the body, Redding got to work at his shop.
“I picked the S10 up cheap and cut the body completely off it,” Redding says. “We took two-and-a-half feet off the frame in the rear, and cut the leaf springs and installed airbags. We had to do some goofy things to make it work, like relocate the gas tank. We put in a 4.3 V6 Chevy engine, but took out the injection to remove some wiring. It’s just got an engine, a muffler, and exhaust with HTI in it, and it runs like a top.”
Aside from the paint job, Redding did everything himself, even the fiberglass coating for the body he built himself, as well as installing the carpet and seats.
“I started building the bottom piece first, the bed, the trough,” Redding says. “We did it in wood composite, with six layers of fiberglass and resin, like you might find on a boat. It took me nine months exactly to build it. The handle is craft aluminum tubing at eight feet tall.”
The Western Flyer is street legal, and Redding likes to take it out whenever he can. He says he gets the most usage out of the vehicle during the holidays, when he donates his time and the car to local fundraising efforts like Toys for Tots and food drives.
“The biggest problem is when you’re driving in town, people stop and jump on it and take pictures,” Redding says. “You’ll be going down the highway and people hang out the windows to take a picture. I tell people, ‘If you don’t like your picture taken, don’t get in it.’”
Redding says it’s hard to estimate the cost he put into the project since it used a lot of recycled parts, but he knows he can make a pretty penny on the Western Flyer if he ever felt like it. He recalled a time where someone whipped out a checkbook and offered him $50,000 on the spot to take the wagon off his hands.
According to Redding, you can’t put a price on the very thing that helped him get through a tumultuous time in his life. His cancer has been in remission for about four years now, and because of the car, Redding says he never lost any sleep over the disease.
“When you get engrossed in [the project]—I had about 46 radiation treatments while working on the car—your mind is thinking on this rather than sitting in a chair and saying, ‘Woe is me,’” Redding says. “Even when I was sleeping at night, I was thinking about [the Western Flyer] and not the cancer.”