Little Rig Man
One boy’s dream toy does good for other kids
By Becky Henson
But then, not many boys have a dad like Randall Witmer. He always made his own toys out of lawnmower parts and other junk lying around his grandparents’ place when he was a kid. His young son Jordan loved big rigs and asked his dad to make him a truck. Witmer took on the challenge. He began to construct a truck that is one-third the size of a traditional big rig.
The job turned out to be more complicated than he thought. He hadn’t worked out all the details and didn’t even have any blueprints for the little rig when he started the construction. Still, Witmer decided to “go all out” and make the truck as close to a real rig as possible.
“I think I redid the hood three times trying to make it right. But everything works on it — the lights, horns and the turn signals. It even has a full-working fifth-wheel plate underneath,” Witmer says. “The tailgate has the roll-up door on there too.”
He named the tiny truck the Wiplash Express, as a namesake of his brother John’s cattle-hauling company. The truck has a Peterbilt-style split windshield, but a Kenworth visor; a Peterbilt grille, but a Kenworth slope. He used MacGyver-like ingenuity to tackle some of the details such as the lights, steps and livestock trailer. Most of the metal for the truck came from the scrap yard, except the lawnmower parts that keep it moving. Witmer fashioned the light sticks out of 3/8-inch stainless steel tubing, while the air cleaner is made of an aluminum heat pipe.
The mini cattle trailer, with its aluminum frame and wood floors, is realistic enough to imagine ponies being hauled in the back. The sides are made out of roof panel with 880 holes that Witmer cut out to scale. The truck took a year and a half to finish. The trailer took another 10 months. The whole thing weighs about 1,760 pounds, has forward and reverse gears, and hits 6 or 7 mph at top speed. It’s all been worth the time to Witmer and 12-year-old Jordan.
“It took about 2,500 hours of work to complete it. Jordan likes it, but it might be more of a toy to me than him,” says Witmer with a chuckle. “Now, the biggest complaint I get is that there isn’t any air conditioning or power steering. But I can fix that.”
Once the truck was completed, Witmer and his son started taking it around to trucking shows and events, including the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., and the Truckers Jamboree at the Iowa 80 TA in Walcott, Iowa.
When they attended the Convoy for the Kids, an annual charity event for kids with serious health issues, the reaction was so positive they looked for similar events where the truck could work its magic.
“The truck is just a kid magnet, so we really wanted to do something with it,” says Witmer.
This summer, father and son will bring the little rig around to a number of fundraising events for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Witmer has been so pleased with the Wiplash Express that he has taken on another project. He is now at work on a 1980s Peterbilt cabover with a hood that tilts to expose the engine. The kids — and adults — will sure like to see that.