• Mon February 05 2007
  • Posted Feb 5, 2007
By MARY PIEPER, Courier Lee News Service CHARLES CITY --- Strange looks sometimes follow Skip Ward when he goes for a short spin in the horseless carriage he built from scratch. The rural Charles City resident will likely attract even more attention this summer when he attempts to drive the vehicle across Iowa. And the gawkers will have plenty of time to admire --- or ponder --- the odd little vehicle. Ward's wooden motorized carriage has a top speed of 15 mph. But during the cross-state trip Ward doesn't plan to drive any faster than 12 mph. He expect the adventure will be somewhat of a difficult feat. He's going to try anyway. "You've got to take a little chance in life," Ward, 67, says. Retiring for the night, he informed his wife, Myrna, 66, of the plan. "I thought she was going to laugh herself right out of bed." But now she is excited about the project, too. Ward finished the automobile in April after more than four months work. At first he wanted to build a buggy like those used in Amish communities. Then he saw a set of plans in a farm magazine for a horseless carriage from the turn of the century. He bought building materials for the vehicle, which, true to its name, looks a lot like an open carriage with a motor. The body is made of black ash, which resembles oak but is less expensive. The car features a tiller instead of a steering wheel and is powered by an 11-horsepower engine from a lawn mower. Ward initially installed a five-speed transaxle in the carriage but that arrangement didn't work out. He replaced that mechanism with a hydrostatic transmission. He purchased the tires, which are a little bigger than those on a bicycle, in Minneapolis. Finishing touches include a horn he bought on Ebay and a speedometer. Miniature lanterns on each side look like they might be just for show, but the small fixtures are actually headlights. The automobile also has a taillight. Ward plans to drive in June on Iowa Highway 3 from north of Dubuque to Akron. Myrna will drive a support vehicle but rather than follow her husband she will explore towns along the route. She intends to keep her cell phone on so Ward can reach her, however. The couple will take a video camera to document the trip. Ward plans to drive 60 miles each day. He hopes to be able to complete the journey in a week but realizes the adventure may take longer. The Wards drove the eastern half of the route in their van to get a feel for the experience. Ward was able to get a regular Iowa license for the vehicle, which has Floyd County plates. "As long as I stay off the big superhighways, I can go anywhere." The vehicle has already accumulated some road time: The couple entered the horseless carriage in 10 parades. Ward drove with his 6-year-old grandson, Kelly Ward, beside him. Myrna walks alongside throwing candy to the crowd. "We've had a lot of fun with it," Ward says. Contact Mary Pieper at (641) 421-0578 or

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