Dads who work as engineers have a tendency to go all out for their kids' science fairs. Barry Swanson is no exception.
But what began 10 years ago as a fifth-grade school project for his daughter has turned into an ongoing hobby for the Swanson family, who live in Rose Hill. Using model kits purchased from an online company called American Speedster, the Swansons have built and maintained three "pedal cars" that serve not only as a fun family activity but also as an alternative form of transportation.
Assembled largely from recycled bike parts and piping, each of the family's three pedal cars features a comfy seat and room to stow personal belongings. The Swansons, who live off 132nd Avenue Northeast, use the vehicles to get to and from the store, visit friends, and even go through the drive in at Dairy Queen.
"They're fun," Barry Swanson said. "We get a lot of looks; we get a lot of questions."
Fourteen-year-old Geiger Swanson uses a pedal car to run his paper route each week and says he hasn't had any trouble taking them for long-distance treks.
"It's as far as your legs can power them," he said.
Barry Swanson constructed the first one for his daughter's science project at Rose Hill Elementary after the family rode in a pedal car on a vacation to Disney World. Surprised to discover the price tag to buy one was around $5,000, Swanson opted to build his own.
Now, he says, the hobby is a great way to get his teenage kids outside and doing something active. The family spends many weekends hitting up garage sales for kids' bikes and taking their pedal cars to events .
The pedal cars have even made appearances at various auto shows, where they serve as somewhat of a novelty among the flashy sports cars.
"We get more looks than the Ferrari next door," Swanson said with a laugh.
Swanson said he's thought about building pedal cars to sell, but the legal issues associated with manufacturing something have made him content with just building and maintaining them for his family.
Even so, he encourages others to consider making their own pedal cars or trying out similar eco-friendly projects. An engineering degree is not necessary to build something useful out of recycled parts, Swanson stressed.
"It's a great project, (and) it's simple to do," he said.