For the love of the build

Local ‘Rat Rod’ builders looking to defend national title

 

Chris Walker, the owner of In the Weeds Hot Rods, won last year’s Rat Hard Build-Off with this entry.  Photo supplied

Chris Walker, the owner of In the Weeds Hot Rods, won last year’s Rat Hard Build-Off with this entry.
Photo supplied

Visitors to just about any classic car show will see a lot of the same thing: a myriad of decades-old, shiny, spotless muscle cars.

The owners of these cars will normally answer questions for those giving them a glance, but there’s often an unspoken rule at these car shows: Look, don’t touch.

That’s not the case with Rat Rods, which area residents Chris Walker and Don Duchene specialize in building.

Walker, of Stacy, and Duchene, of Harris, both have decades of experience building the cars, which are hot rods, sometimes with big engines, but with a twist: They’re built on a budget using whatever old materials the team can find.

The build team also includes Kathy Duchene, Mike Schoonover, Jason Walker, Michael Walker, Robin Hetchler, Kevin Johnson, Roger Quast, Jim Walker, Bill Glisky, Shelby Walker and Samantha Troff.

There’s no pristine paint jobs when Rat Rods are finished; spots of rust, dings and dents add to the character of the cars for the builders and those who appreciate the craft of constructing the vehicles.

“Paint jobs are $7,000 to $10,000,” Walker said, noting that he works as an auto body specialist who spends a lot of time painting, buffing and polishing. “We just take a couple of cans of Spray Bond and go to town on it.”

Duchene added, “We encourage little kids to climb in them.”

Left: Chris Walker and Don Duchene pose with an old Volkswagen Beetle they’re using parts of for this year’s Rat Hard Build-Off.

Left: Chris Walker and Don Duchene pose with an old Volkswagen Beetle they’re using parts of for this year’s Rat Hard Build-Off. Photo by Derrick Knutson

Walker said they usually scour the upper Midwest for old cars, because driving far to pick up a car would cut down on the amount of money the team has for the build.

Last year, Walker’s brother let him know about the inaugural “Rat Hard Build-Off,” which is sponsored by Rat Rod and Ride Hard magazines.

For those who took part in the competition, the challenge was to build a Rat Rod car or motorcycle in 30 days with a budget of $3,000 or less.

The cars are judged against one another, as are the bikes. Last year, Walker said there weren’t enough bikes in the competition to be judged, but there were a dozen cars. He noted 75 teams across the nation “put their names in the hat” to be drawn as build teams for the competition.

“This year, there’s triple that number,” Walker said.

Walker didn’t have to leave it to chance to be selected to take part in the competition again this year, though. His car won last year’s competition and was featured on the covers of both Rat Rod and Ride Hard magazines.

Chris Walker keeps this finished Rat Rod in his shop for show.  Photo by Derrick Knutson

Chris Walker keeps this finished Rat Rod in his shop for show.
Photo by Derrick Knutson

Expounding on the competition, Walker said the cars have to drive at least 300 miles to the Redneck Rumble in Lebanon, Tennessee. Teams are not allowed to bring the Rat Rods in on car trailers.

From Lebanon, the main group then travels to Steelfest in St. Louis one week before the Rumble, and participants are encouraged to take this route, according to the Rat Hard website.

Walker and Duchene said they’re not exactly sure how the cars are judged, but they believe a number of factors go into the process, which is completed by judges from across the nation.

“They have a panel of judges that go around and look at the cars,” Walker said. “They look at safety, how well it’s built and creativity.”

Added Duchene: “This guy (Chris) is one of the most creative guys I know.”

According to the Rat Hard Build-Off Facebook page, the public will be able to vote during the drive-off period (Sept. 14-20), and those votes will be tallied along with the judges’ votes.

Being the winner of the first Rat Hard Build-Off, Walker has a bit of a target on his back, and he said there’s some lighthearted smack talk going on among the build teams on the Internet.

“All the guys involved in the build off are giving each other jabs,” Walker said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

To learn more about the Rat Hard competition, visit www.ratrodtour.com.

 
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