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Karting Americana from John McCorvey

Posted: Thu Sep 21, 2017 1:19 pm
This year at TBO the theme was kartings Americana and that theme consists of artifacts, or a collection of artifacts, related to the history, geography, folklore and cultural heritage of the hobby and John McCorvey from Lilburn Georgia brought with him a replica of a kart him and his father built together back in in 1959 that is the perfect example of the ingenuity and the spirit of fun that was in abundance in kartings early days.

Below is John's story of the karts history in his own words and time frame below.

John “Putt-Nik Dude” McCorvey

“Go Kart” Timeline

Atlanta, GA 1959

Early July: After enduring months of my constant nagging, my previously reluctant dad finally gives the OK for us to build a “go kart” using parts from an old reel mower, which has been languishing in the shed in our backyard for years.

Mid July: By this point I have torn apart the lawn mower as well as a very handsome wooden wagon built by my grandfather several years earlier. The mower would provide the running gear and motor, the wagon would be “relieved of” its four semi-pneumatic wheels and both axles.

Late July: My dad and I have rebuilt the lawn mower’s engine with new rings, seals and ground the valves. The motor and running gear, including the primary belt drive, clutch, jackshaft, and deck plate are assembled and complete. Finally, we bolt the mower’s blade drive sprocket to one of the 10” diameter wagon wheels. All this hardware has been attached to a support platform built up from old wood 2 x 4’s. The “driveline” is ready.

Early August, frustration: My dad is out of town on a business trip for two weeks, in desperation and impatient, I bolt a 1 X 6 plank to the completed drive assembly, and attach a wagon style front axle including the two 8” wheels off the wagon. Steering this monstrosity with my feet, I take my first ride. A bit clumsy and ugly for sure, it actually runs well enough to actually make it to Tommy Swinks’ house and back, two houses away. It certainly isn’t a Muscat Rambler, Simplex Challenger, or a Putt-Nik but it is a good start.

Mid August: For some reason, my dad “isn’t all that pleased” when he returns home and discovers that I have “forged ahead.” After taking a look at my “handiwork,” he decrees that “we” need to build a better frame.” He engineers a new “A-frame” chassis including an improved methodology to tie it to the driveline. We improve the front axle’s mounting by routing a slot in the 2 x 4 support for the front axle to nest in. I build and attach a seat back, improve my manual clutch linkage, fabricate a stick-lever drag brake, a crude gas pedal, and add a rope loop for steering assistance. I’m ready to ride. This will be the first of several iterations my “hot rod” will undergo.

Fall: Unfortunately the original 5S Briggs just doesn’t have the power to climb Martin Daneman’s driveway, Jody Lane, Knob Hill Road, or several of the other side streets in our neighborhood. My dad soon surprises me with a used Briggs Model 8 and V-Plex clutch to replace the 5S engine, (iteration number 2). Performance improvements are immediate. Now, we have a new challenge. With this added power, I immediately begin rapidly wearing out the poor quality semi-pneumatic drive wheel tires. A trip to the Sears Farm and Garden Center store and we bring home a set of four pneumatic tires with wheels. I fit these up to the kart and iteration number 3 becomes a reality.

Spring 1960: By now the “kart” is running pretty good but it’s still not quite there. It’s obvious that for style and safety’s sake, it needs a steering wheel. There just happens to be one in an old dead wooden boat someone left behind years before at our family’s cabin on Alatoona lake. My dad gives me the OK to “salvage” its steering components, and with a bit of trial and error, I manage to adapt the boat’s cable and pulley steering to work on the kart, and after adding an “improved” braking system (which utilizes a piece of ½” V-belt looped around a pulley on the jackshaft for friction), I’m done. This turned out to be the final iteration of the 1959 “McCorvey kart” and was, as it is presented here. This configuration continued running until I got my driver’s license in December 1963. Unfortunately, I can’t recall my last ride, but at some point in the fall of 1963, I rode it from my dad’s house on North Druid Hills Road, all the way to my girlfriend’s house on Echo Hills Circle and back. Driving mostly on side streets and an occasional right-of-way, this was a round-trip of almost thirty miles. It served me well.

The Summer 1960 Neighborhood Karting Group:

Tommy Swinks, 1958 dead axle Bug/Briggs Model 81302
Gail Swinks, 1960 Putt Nik Leo/Clinton A-400 , (Deceased 2017)
Jon Pirtle, 1959 Sears Racer Kart/ Briggs Model 81302
John Moon, homebuilt-steel frame/ Briggs Model 81302
Pat Henry, Hamilton/Briggs Model 81302, (Deceased 2007)
Rudy Pardue, homebuilt-steel frame/Cushman Eagle engine
The Karras Twins, 1 each Norseman fun karts/?
Gary Trapp, 1959 Putt-Nik/Lauson H-25, (Deceased 2010)
Jane Abrams, 1959 Putt-Nik/Lauson H-25 with belt drive

In memory of my father, V. Avis McCorvey

Some photos of John taken the kart out for a drive.

********************Click image for full size view********************








Thanks John for sharing this early karting memory with all of us this year.


Re: Karting Americana from John McCorvey

Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:36 am
by Rob Voska

Thank You for letting me run it for a few laps. It was an experience!


Re: Karting Americana from John McCorvey

Posted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:29 am
by kevin brown
John aka "Putt Nik Dude"
Great story and a very enjoyable read. Thanks for the effort and sharing.