All Misc

John M’s Special Project

John Millen was a Disney Cars fanatic and even had his bedroom custom made in the style of Cars complete with a car bed and a life-sized “Mater” mural on the wall.  ( and JohnsJourney on Facebook )


My son (when he was younger) was also into “Cars” and when I got tired of replacing the D-cell batteries in his “Cars Mountain Challenge Hot Wheels track”, I wired in a transformer.  It was no longer being used at my house so I gave it to John’s dad.  Rumor has it, if they did not take it away at night, it would have been going 24 x 7!

When John passed away last August, I offered my condolences and asked if they needed anything.  Dawn asked how I was with metal and never one to say no, asked what she had in mind.  Well, that started a 6 month project involving contacts over 3 counties.  I never thought I would be in the Urn business however this was a project that was personal.

After a few hours working in SketchUp, I sent them a 3-rendering.  They were happy with the design so I went on a hunt to find materials.  A huge thanks goes out to all of the people who offered materials, advice and discounts;


The “wings” are a lamination of 3 pieces cut on the band saw, soldered together and then shaped with files by hand.  The first connecting rod was donated by the Napa Auto machine shop on Wherle Drive.  It came from a 350 Chevy but didn’t have the scale I was looking for so I went looking for a larger one.  I got a tip that Casey’s might have what was needed.  John Casey came through and provided a connecting rod from a 500 HP Caterpillar Diesel motor.

I wanted to lighten up the look of the connecting rod so I removed the top, center and rounded the base by removing the “shoulders”.  I had to cut the connecting rod outside because of the shower of sparks.  I then switched to hand files and sanders to shape the connecting rod further.  The steel remaining in the center looked like a small flame so I decided to leave it.

I brought the connecting rod over to Steve at Tripp Plating for polishing and brass electroplating.  Two days later, I picked up a brass electroplated GOLD connecting rod that had been polished and sprayed with lacquer.  Drilling and tapping the steel so it could be used as the support was a lesson in persistence.  So many taps broke I lost count.  I found that finishing nails and pliers could sometimes get the broken tap out of the hole.

The bottom of the cylinder is soldered and pinned in place.  The top needed to be tight and flush.  The offcut of brass left over from the wings was a ½ inch wide strip that was straight on one side and irregular on the other side.  I thought the profile looked similar to the terrain from the movie.  I formed the brass to fit inside the cylinder and soldered it in place.  I thought of making decals so the inside would look like Radiator springs but this worked well.


I assembled all the metal and had Steve’s crew do a final polish on it.  The base needed to be wide enough to keep the top heavy piston from tipping over but able to fit on an 8 inch deep mantle.  3 pieces of black walnut glued together made the blank to be turned on the lathe.   A recess in the top for the connecting rod, a tread pattern and some final touches made a black walnut tire.  A recess in the bottom  was a good place to add a hubcap/engraving blank that also hid the connecting bolts…


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