Pieces of lots of things live second life in Johnson’s club creations

Tommy Johnson poses next to the pedal-powered car he cobbled together using the body of an old Idle Hour roadster, seven bicycles and other bits and pieces.
Tommy Johnson poses next to the pedal-powered car he cobbled together using the body of an old Idle Hour roadster, seven bicycles and other bits and pieces. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Aug. 11, 2016.

The Idle Hour is long gone, but a piece of it lives on in Tommy Johnson’s creation.

Actually, pieces of lots of things live on in Johnson’s creations.

His old porch railing, for example; a dismantled office chair.

And that’s the point of the Hoodratz Alternative Transportation Club, organized by Johnson and a buddy in 2006. Everything is made out of something else.

“It’s a group of people, young and old, that take some kind of transportation and customize it to make it their own,” Johnson says. “It’s got to be more than a paint job and new tires.”

He points to his pride and joy, a pedal-powered vehicle that, from the outside, appears to resemble a 1927 roadster.

That’s because it used to be a 1927 roadster.

“That roadster used to run at the Idle Hour,” he says.

In its day, the Idle Hour — a miniature amusement park built in 1920 around an old quarry just east of Huntington, also known as Speedway Park — was the hot spot in the community.

“They used to race at the Idle Hour back in the ’40s and ’50s,” he says. “It was the world’s fastest half-mile dirt race track.”

People crowded the grandstand to watch the stock and sprint races. But when the park shut down, the cars were cast aside.

“A lot of race cars just sat out in the field,” Johnson says.

He got his hands on one of them.

“I thought I was going to make a car,” he says.

It wasn’t to be.

“It sat in the woods for 30 years,” he says of the roadster. “I thought, ‘I wish I could get it to do 120, but it’s too rough. Maybe I could get it to do 20.’”

So he put a thousand hours into adapting the car’s body — still showing traces of its original paint job, along with a lot of rust — into a pedal car.

“I took the railing off my front porch and made a frame,” he says.

While the railing had outlived its usefulness on Johnson’s porch, it found new life under the roadster.

He used seven bicycles for various pieces and parts.

“It’s got headlights, horn, taillights, a stereo system,” he says, turning up the sound to demonstrate.

“The shocks are from a motorcycle,” he says. “It has fully independent suspension.

“I took the rim off a bicycle and cut it up to look like a grill.”

Two plastic seats accommodate two adults, and two sets of pedals give each rider the ability to help power the car.

The cobbled-together pedal car gets around a lot.

“I take it to car shows, mostly,” he says. “It’s basically to show off my building skills.”

He showed it off at the Ride 2 Remember for Alzheimer’s awareness on Saturday, Aug. 6, an event inspired by his mother and organized by the Hoodratz Alternative Transportation Club.

Johnson also brought one of his earlier contraptions, a redesigned bicycle inspired by his mom, to the event.

“I built it to take my mom for a ride,” he explains.

It’s a stretched out bicycle with a regular bike seat for Tommy Johnson and an old office chair serving as a seat for Jannie Johnson.

It was a creation inspired by necessity, he says.

“I didn’t have a driver’s license, and I couldn’t go get her and take her out for ice cream or to dinner,” he says.

The custom tricycle solved the problem.

“We’ve put many a mile on that, me and my mom,” he says.

The Ride 2 Remember was born about four years ago at the suggestion of Johnson’s mom.

“She said, ‘Son, I want more of your friends to ride with us,’” he says.

Jannie Johnson didn’t ride this year — she’s in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, Johnson says — so the bicyclists took the ride to her, incorporating three nursing homes into their ride around town.

“We asked them to bring the residents out, and we had a bicycle parade for them,” he says.

Johnson’s mom was one of the spectators.

“She knew me when I rode past,” he says. “She knew who I was.”