Jeez! Rat rods steal attention at Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend

 2013 Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend.

2013 Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend. Photo by Greg Lehman.

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WALLA WALLA — Among the 397 classic cars lined up on Main Street for the 18th Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend, the vast majority showing off their custom paint jobs, interior restorations and pristine motors, was a small lineup of a few of the rustiest cars to hit the road.

“To me, a rat rod, you don’t paint it, you don’t do anything to it. You just leave it as is,” said Greg Richards of Pasco.

He should know. Richards turned a ’34 Dodge pickup into a rat rod that is winning regional acclaim and soon will be featured in Overkill, a magazine dedicated to rat rods.

Right next to Richards’s Dodge was another rusty pickup, this one mostly made of a ’49 Ford owned by Glen Buxton of Pasco.

“It’s just a conglomeration of parts and pieces,” Buxton said, pointing out his rod has a Chevy engine and a GM chassis, along with a few other pieces that in their previous use had nothing to do with cars.

So what determines the make of a rat rod?

It’s usually the cab, which is fairly distinguishable. The origin of other parts, on occasion, become mysteries, like the fenders on Richards’ Dodge.

“Those fenders, I don’t know where they came from,” Buxton said.

“I don’t think he (Richards) knows,” rat rod owner Floyd Holden agreed.

About the only thing you can be sure of with rat rods is whether you like them or not.

“I would rather see cars that look like the original. But if they are happy, I am not going to complain,” said a man who only identified himself as Beau from Arlington, Wash.

Even though Beau didn’t care much for rat rods, he still spent several minutes studying them, especially the modern diesel engine in Richards’ rod.

“I ask why?” he said before walking off.

Then there was John Woodworth of Boise, who relished all that rust.

“I like them. I like the creativity and the use of parts. It’s amazing,” Woodworth said, noting there is a practical side to rat rods. “You don’t have to paint the body and they are functional and unique.”

The functionality is questionable at time.

“You can’t drive them in the rain because they don’t have wipers,” Buxton said.

Other elements of rat rods are not what they would appear to be.

“You guys clear,” Buxton said loudly, just before turning on the engine and revealing the fact the exhaust is nothing more than a tailpipe to a Peterbilt semi attached straight to the manifold. No catalytic converter. No noise reducing baffling chamber. Just a rumble that would make a Harley Fat Boy sound like a Honda Goldwing.

He quickly turned it off before anyone complained about the excessive noise, which is a big part of rat rods.

Despite having no wipers and only the semblance of a muffler system, rat rods aren’t pulled over by police unless they are speeding, and speed is what they were built to do, Buxton.

“I don’t think the cops, if they did pull us over, would know where to start,” Buxton said. “They are street legal.”

They are also unique to the owner.

Richards’s Dodge has barbed wire along the running boards, horseshoes attached to the bed and numerous other statements and re-purposing of parts normally found around a farm.

Buxton’s Ford includes hood louvers made from two lines of pipes. After he added them, people started telling him they made his rat rod look like a World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane. So he had special cow ear tags made up with P-51 and attached them to the front fenders.

“It’s just a conglomeration of parts and pieces. You will never see two the same,” Buxton said.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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