The Western Flyer Rocket “More Than A Toy”

 

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Chuck Redding Sr. is considered by his peers as a true master of his craft, an accomplished automotive mechanic with over 40 years of experience, his repair center in Saint Petersburg, Florida, Redding’s Auto Service, is never lacking work. Redding carries a reputation as one of the premier rod builders on the West central Gulf Coast of Florida and while this may appear to be well deserved, Redding is quick to tell you that building hot rods is not what he does to pay the bills.

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Redding’s 1928 Ford is the most conventional rod he’s ever built.

“Building hot rods is just my hobby. Some folks go fishing, others play golf, I build hot rods,” Redding grinned. Over the years, Redding has become known among the local custom car culture for his unique and different builds.

A stroll around the grounds and out buildings of Redding’s Auto Service will confirm this fact: you will find a really cool 1952 Chevrolet 4-door sedan rat rod, as well as a 1972 Chevrolet ramp truck/car hauler sitting out in the yard in front of the two, double stall out buildings. You might notice the 1960 Nash Metropolitan sitting on the rotisserie awaiting conversion from hardtop to ragtop. There’s even a bass boat that Redding is tinkering with, what exactly he has planned for the boat has yet to be revealed.

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The MonzaRod sits in the foreground, and Redding’s 72 ramp truck and the nash on the rotisserie are visible in the background.

The most unique vehicles that Redding lays claim to, are all housed within the two out buildings. When Redding opens the doors to these buildings, even the most seasoned motorhead, will take a step back, scratch their head, and mutter to themselves, “What in the world do we have here?”

Inside the first building, after removing the custom made car cover, you will find a very beautiful, 1960 Nash Metropolitan that appears to be restored to its original factory specifications. However, upon closer examination one will discover a small block Chevrolet residing under the hood.

This pretty little Metropolitan will be featured in a future issue of our sister publication, Street Legal TV. Sitting in the bay next to the Metropolitan is another very unique Redding creation, a 1960 Chevrolet Corvair that Redding has dubbed the MonzaRod. This car was recently featured here in Rod Authority, and you can find that article by clicking here.

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This beautiful little 1960 Nash Metropolitan, is another creation from Redding’s garage, and will be featured in a future issue of our sister publication, Street Legal TV.

Without a doubt, the most unique, distinctive, one-of-a-kind vehicle, is located behind the door of the second out building on the grounds of Redding’s business. This vehicle has been displayed at many car shows throughout Florida, and to date has not won any awards or trophies. This is not due to any substandard construction, or less than appealing paint work, but more so because organizers have never been able to place this vehicle in any particular category.

It’s not really a Hot Rod or a Street Rod, it doesn’t fall into the vintage class, and it’s definitely not a musclecar, it’s something totally different deserving of its own designation. Maybe there should be a 1950s era, coaster wagon division, for Redding’s most exceptional, Western Flyer Rocket Wagon.

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The original inspiration for Redding’s Western Flyer Rocket, the real 1950’s era Western Flyer Rocket.

Early in 2010, Redding received news that no one wants to hear, after a routine checkup, Redding’s doctor sat down with him and explained he had been diagnosed with cancer. Although the doctor assured him his cancer was treatable, Redding had his doubts. Redding knew he had to find something to do that would help him take his mind off of his illness.

Searching for a new project, Redding was walking through his shop when he noticed the small Western Flyer wagon sitting back in the corner covered in dust and dirt. Redding pulled the little red wagon out of the corner, and the light bulb in his head came on.

Coming or going, the Western Flyer looks good

Redding’s idea sounded pretty simple; recreate the Western Flyer Wagon at a 5:1 scale, and make it completely street legal. It sounded crazy, but that’s what Redding does, and the more difficult the build, the better he likes it.

After a few initial measurements, Redding figured that the wagon would fit nicely on a compact pickup truck chassis. A search of the local area yielded a 1985 Chevrolet S-10, the body was shot but the chassis was sound, and that’s really what Redding was looking for, a solid platform for his red wagon.

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The finished chassis sits ready to accept the new composite body, note the center mounted fuel tank and the steel tubing body mounts.

The first phase of the build was to strip the old S-10 down to a rolling chassis. Redding found that in order to have the wheels match the same location as the wagon, he would have to remove the last two feet of the frame, cut the leaf springs down to fit the shortened frame, and install a set of airbags to complete the reworked rear suspension. Redding retained the stock GM configuration for the front suspension and braking systems.

The stock GM differential would also remain in place. Redding even kept the stock Chevrolet wheels. Redding also hand fabricated all of the mounting brackets for the planned composite body with steel tubing, “I did some crazy stuff to make everything work, but when it’s said and done, the platform is stock Chevrolet S-10.” Redding related.

The 4.3 liter V6 now sports an Edelbrock Intake and 600 cfm Carburetor

The drive train under Redding’s Western Flyer is mostly stock Chevrolet. Redding opted to modify the stock V6 motor by eliminating the injection system and replacing it with an Edelbrock intake and a 600 cfm Edelbrock carburetor.

Redding’s primary goal for this modification was not so much to increase horsepower, but rather to do away with the computer and the related miles of wiring associated with the fuel injection. “I rewired everything, went back to a carburetor, and it purrs like a kitten,” Redding laughed. A standard GM 700 R4 Turbo Hydramatic transmission is secured to the rear of the 4.3 liter power plant, and the nearly 160 horses are moved to the ground via the stock S-10 differential.

Western Auto - A Bygone Era

Founded in 1909 by accountant George Pepperdine, and run as a mail-order auto parts supplier from Pepperdine’s kitchen in Kansas City, the Western Auto Supply Agency grew from these humble beginnings to become a household name with over 3,000 stores nationwide.

The stores were a great place to find the parts necessary to keep the car running, but customers could also find many other specialty items, furniture, appliances, radios and televisions were all available as well as the very popular Western Flyer line of Bicycles, sleds and coaster wagons.

Western Auto succumbed to growing competition, was restructured during the 1970’s, sold during the 1980’s and finally ceased operations at the end of 2003. With the demise of the company, the Western Flyer line of toys, the bicycles, sleds and of course the Rocket wagons became highly sought after by collectors and are considered to be very valuable in the marketplace today.

The body of Redding’s Western Flyer was the most labor intensive part of the entire build, and now that it’s completed, is truly a work of art. Redding built the entire body, with the exception of the paint and graphics, on his own.

The body is a composite of sorts, consisting of half-inch marine plywood, and seven layers of fiberglass, “It’s almost like building a boat.” Redding offered.

Although building a boat would have been much easier, because there are molds to work from, the Western Flyer was hand fabricated with absolutely no molds involved in the construction of this wagon.

Redding began the body using cardboard cutouts before moving to a more permanent wood mockup. Once satisfied with the dimensions of the wagon, Redding started fabricating the firewall and floor pan of his creation with the marine plywood; from there he worked up the bed, driver’s compartment, to include the dash panel, hood and sides of the Western Flyer.

“The corner pieces were probably the most difficult part of the body to make.” Redding recalls. “I cut grooved pieces to bend around the corners, and I just couldn’t get them right, I trashed a few of them before I got what I was looking for.”

Every layer was allowed to cure completely, sanded and finished, before the next layer was applied. Redding repeated this process for all seven layers, top and bottom.

A lot of care and hard work went into the fabrication of the composite body

After the wood was securely glued and screwed in place, final measurements were taken to confirm form and fit, and the first of seven layers of fiberglass were laid down.

The tongue on the front of the wagon was constructed using the same process. “I made the front piece removable so I would have room enough to load it, and another car in my trailer should I ever need to do so.” Redding stated.

Once Redding was happy with his wagon, he sanded, finished and primed the body before sending it off the Swede’s Total Car Care in nearby Clearwater for the bright red paint, and the 5:1 scaled Western Flyer Rocket Graphics.

When Swede and his crew were finished with the paint work, all that was left to do was the final assembly. Redding mounted the body on the S-10 chassis and finished the miscellaneous details, Auto Meter gauges went into the dash, a set of custom covered high back bucket seats were installed, lights, hand fabricated windshield, and white powder coated full moon wheel covers brought everything together. The last piece was the eight-foot aluminum handle.

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A perfect 5 to 1 replica of the original.

Today Redding donates his time and his Western Flyer Wagon to a number of charity food drives, and is a fixture around the holiday season helping to promote the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign. “I really get a kick out of it whenever I drive around town.” Redding grins.” People will stop me just so they can get a picture with it, and I really appreciate the fact that folks really enjoy it.”

When asked about selling the Western Flyer Rocket, Redding shakes his head and affirms this vehicle is not for sale, “There’s no way I would ever sell it, this thing really got me through a trying time in life, and I put so much work and effort into it, there’s no way I would ever be able to put a price on it.”

It took Redding exactly one-year to complete his Western Flyer Rocket Wagon, and without doubt it is truly a one-off vehicle, and will never be exactly duplicated. Another bit of good news, Redding has now been in total remission for five-years, and he is completely convinced his Western Flyer Rocket Wagon played a major role in his recovery. That’s a fact that’s hard to argue with.

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About the author

Chuck Green

As a professional writer, and photographer Chuck has always had an affliction for anything related to motorsports. Over the years he worked events from local short tracks to the high profile series of NASCAR, Indy Car, IHRA, and NHRA.
Read My Articles

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