The T-Bucket

My little brother is a lover of all kinds of motorized land vehicles. He is a professional driver, and has an eye for distinctive vehicles of all kinds. Over the past few years he has bought two different “racing” editions of the Ford Focus, a snowmobile, multiple quads, a Polaris RZR, and a boosted Ford F-150. Each of his vehicles is unique.

His most recent addition is what is commonly known as a T-Bucket. For those of you, like myself, who don’t follow the world of obscure car trends closely, a T-Bucket is a Ford Model-T that has been dismantled down to the frame and rebuilt into a street legal go-kart. Naturally when I went home to visit the family, he was eager, as he always is, to show me the wonders of his latest acquisition.

Original Model-Ts had no need for a battery. The driver, or his servants, was expected to run around to the front of the car and crank the engine manually until internal combustion took over. However, the T-Bucket has improved on Henry Ford’s design by placing a battery in the trunk. Unfortunately, for reasons not immediately obvious, the battery must be manually disconnected after every use or it will run dead. Sadly, my brother had not remembered to disconnect the battery after his last trip, and my first experience of the T-Bucket was pushing it out of the garage and hooking up jumper cables.

The T-Bucket is a convertible, in the sense that there is a separate piece you can put over your head if you know its going to rain, but for all practical purposes it is an open air car. The windshield is the only window, and it is woefully low, providing no protection whatsoever against any bugs that might happen to be flying at face level. The builders did think far enough ahead to realize that you would need to clear rain off the windshield, so there is a small blade attached to the top of the window on the driver’s side that can be manually moved with your hand. Rear-view mirrors had apparently not yet been invented.

Without windows, there are no need for window cranks, and the Model-T was built long before anyone dreamed of anti-theft devices so there are no locks, or even external door handles. You simply reach over the door and release a small metal catch to enter and exit. To call the interior roomy would be quite an exaggeration, but my brother and I managed to squeeze into the cab and we were off.

The comparison to the go-kart seems apt, but a go-kart that can travel at highway speeds. I should point out that my brother is probably the best driver that I know, extremely skilled in knowing the roads and the limits of his vehicles. And that makes riding with him terrifying, especially in a vehicle which couldn’t possibly have a lower crash test rating.

We zoomed around the back roads of the mountains, wind whipping all around our heads, the road zooming past far more obviously than it does in a modern car. He delighted in showing me its acceleration and handling, while I held tight to the door next to me and tried to enjoy the ride.

Eventually we made it to the main highway. The city where I grew up is quite different from many other cities. Traffic lights are not used liberally, and only recently have signs gone up declaring certain extremely unwise driving decisions against the rules. As a local, you learn to avoid the traffic lights, as a bit of daring can save you minutes of time. We found ourselves sitting on a curve at the bottom of a long hill, with oncoming traffic moving sixty miles-per-hour, as my brother expertly waited for a break in the traffic.

His driving skills are obviously vastly superior to mine, as he found a gap where I didn’t, and squealed out into traffic, quickly accelerating into the flow. On the other side of town we faced our next challenge. When we arrive at a convenience store, the question of the battery arose. Should he leave the motor running or hope that our ride into town has given the alternator enough time to charge for the next stop? We chose to stop the motor and hope for the best.

The convenience store clerk struck up a conversation about the T-Bucket. My brother’s face glowed as he told him all about it. After buying a very overpriced twenty-ounce Lipton tea, we returned to the T-Bucket and hoped for the best. My brother fired the ignition and we waited. After the longest half-second in quite some time, we heard a grinding sound in the front (I almost said under the hood), followed by a loud roar. My brother pressed the accelerator a few times for good measure. As we pulled back into a traffic, people honked and waved. He told me he gets that treatment frequently in the T-Bucket. We roared out of town and up the mountain. During our ride my brother warned me about the exhaust pipe directly below the doors, as they have a tendency to burn first-time riders. I pointed out to him that it might have been useful to have that information before our last stop.

After a few minutes we arrived back at the garage. I climbed out, glad to be back on solid ground, and with a new appreciation for the government’s auto safety regulations. I opened the garage door and he backed in, the exhaust becoming even more deafening in the enclosed area. Once the engine had gone silent, he came around and disconnected the battery. After all, you never know when you’ll need to make your next run into town to buy an iced tea.

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