The Arroyo Car

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Here in New Mexico, when a car is no longer wanted, it may not go to the junkyard. Instead, cars may end up in a place we call the “arroyo.” “What is an arroyo?” you ask. Some might call it a ditch, but to me it is closer to a car dealership without the hassle of a salesperson. I have always wanted a car to take apart, and one day I found the perfect one for a price that could not be beat: free. I towed it home and got straight to work. The first problem was that there was no key. Now, anyone who has seen action movies knows that hot-wiring a car is as simple as touching the red wires together, and, Shazam! the car starts right up, so gave it a try. After pulling the wires from under the steering wheel, I started connecting different wires together and, through some trial and error, I got the car started! Then, I wired them to some sleek switches, creating my space-age looking car, which I called the “Tracer.” I added my personal touches, including cutting the roof off and giving it racing stripes, then I decided it was time to take it up a notch. I overheard a conversation about go-carts, and I knew what I wanted to do. I envisioned taking the engine out of the car and building a go-cart frame.

Now, there was one big obstacle to this idea. As a 16 year-old kid, I had very little money. To solve this dilemma, I asked some friends to join me, with a buy-in of $50 per person. Six people expressed interest, so work began with a budget starting at $350. Selling shares in the project did two things: it gave me the money I needed to get it going, and it brought friends together to work with me. I could have tackled it myself, but the input and excitement that came from each of my friends made it all the more fun.

Once I had removed the engine and suspension from the car, we were ready to start on the frame, but none of us had the slightest clue how to weld. Being the person that I am, I refused to declare surrender. I borrowed my dad’s welder, loaded up a quick YouTube video, and taught myself to weld. I caught on and was quickly making welds that looked professional and tested to be quite strong.

After nearly two months, I realized that my project had become more difficult than I had originally thought. Between balancing homework with working, dealing with our limited budget, and coordinating the small number of tools, I discovered that the go-cart was going to take much longer than we had originally planned. Yet this wasn’t going to stop me from leading our group to a product that was ours and was exciting for all. That is when a small, ironic miracle happened. A friend of my mom’s totaled his Toyota pickup and gave it to us! This provided the base we needed for what we started calling our “truggy.” The truck had been rolled and had major damages, but we took some of the steel from our original project and made roll bars for it. Having already rebuilt the engine in my old Land Cruiser, I was able to get the engine running again with a new radiator I found on eBay.

The truggy is still a work in progress, but as we near completion, I have come to grasp that it is more about the journey than the destination; each individual task we have tackled has been a learning experience. Sparking the excitement and passion of each person throughout the project has showed me that while I love engineering, I also enjoy working with others. Collaboration and pragmatism, after all, are the ideas behind engineering at its best.

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