(Published Nov. 2, 2006, 5:00 p.m.)
What's more fun than bumper cars? A bumper car in the back yard
By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week
"If one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body."
-Newton's third law of motion
There's only one place where a kid can legally get behind the wheel of their own car and ram the heck out of their buddies.
Ahhh, the bumper cars. The most repeatable of rides along the carnival's midway. Going as fast forward as they do back, bumper cars give a little sister as much power as her biggest brother and his friends.
Memories like these made Larry Matelski, of Elkhorn, look twice when he saw a 1957 Lusse Auto Skooter being used to haul garbage to the road at a customer's house where he was building a deck.
"When I asked her about it, she said they tried to throw it away, but it was too heavy for the garbage guys to take," Matelski said.
"It was pretty rotten-pretty shot," he said. "But me and my partner threw it in the truck and I brought it home."
The woman brought it home years before after picking it up while traveling in Connecticut. And while Matelski was fixing it up, he found plastic ticket stubs from Palisades Amusement Park, the most famous amusement park in America's history.
Palisades Amusement Park was located in Cliffside Park and Fort Lee, N.J.-it was so large that it spanned two towns-and was a national icon from 1898-1971, according to their Web site (www.palisadespark.com).
Oh if that little car could talk, the stories it could tell.
"Thousands of people have probably ridden in it over the years," he said.
But at the Matelski house, this lucky little car is making new memories and still bringing joy to people all these years later.
Its restored value is $5,000 to $7,000, but that's not why Matelski put so much into it. He did it for the fun factor.
"We have a couple of grandkids and I thought it would be neat to fix it up and make it electric so it wouldn't be noisy and wouldn't have that gas smell and we wouldn't have to pull a rope to get it started," he said.
The car runs on 36 volts through three 12-volt batteries and another 12-volt battery that runs contacters, directionals and headlights. It weighs 1,000 pounds and clips along at 25 miles per hour and travels in reverse as well on 10-inch lawn tractor tires.
The upholstery matches the original style and color, but with extra padding. "It's a pretty bumpy ride," he laughed.
In all, about the only original part of the whole vehicle is the fiberglass shell. Matelski recreated the chrome from the pieces that were present and the paint colors are duplicated from its original form.
"The bumper cars of those days didn't look like cars now-they were mocked after cars. This one had a Corvette logo and colors, so I duplicated that.
"As a carpenter by trade, this was challenge because you can't get parts for these anymore," he said. "So I made a lot of parts for it myself."
It took a solid year of work and more money than Matelski would like to add up to bring the little car back to life. But it was all worth it.
Meghan, 4, and Jacob, 1, Mertz, Matelski and his wife Ginny's grandchildren, absolutely do enjoy the ride, as do their daughters, Ali and Amy and their friends.
"We've had a blast," he said. "It turns heads when we take it out, that's for sure. And the kids love it."
Matelski doesn't plan on collecting a fleet of little cars; the one he's got is sufficient, he said. His other hobbies of woodworking and stained glass work keep him busy.
"But I'll probably keep my eye open," he added.
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