World’s Largest Motorized Radio Flyer Wagon
We caught up with Ted Mangum at Mel’s Diner during Shades of the Past in Pigeon Forge. It wasn’t hard to find him – he’s got the unofficial record for the world’s largest motorized Radio Flyer wagon.
The retired technical vocation teacher from Ellisville, MS has a wide and friendly smile as he welcomes you aboard the big red wagon. In fact, he claims the wagon itself “runs on smiles.”
Ted tells us, “I saw a large motorized wagon in California but it could only hold two people. I decided I was going to build one that could fit a lot more passengers.”
After obtaining an ’87 Ford Econoline ambulance, Ted got to work removing the original body and custom welding an 18’L x 7’W x 3’H steel frame – built to scale of course. The giant wagon runs with it’s original motor – a carbureted 460 police interceptor engine and C4 transmission, along with stock intake and exhaust. It also sits on the original ambulance chassis. Wheels are racing wheel discs with truck tires and PVC caps fabricated by Ted.
The front is fitted with plexiglass for safety and visibility and insulated with spray foam to reduce noise. The wagon handle is created from two muffler pipes welded together; it can be attached to a cable to allow it to drop and create the illusion that someone is pulling it. They’ve recently added an awning to provide some relief from weather.
Although there is a working ambulance siren still installed inside, they are hesitant to use it. “The police got pretty mad at me a couple of times so I’d rather not press the button these days.”
It took a total of fifteen months to complete the 6300 lb behemoth. “I was aiming for 12 months to finish but the sides warped and it took me three months to smooth it out,” says Ted. It was completed in 2012 and in the three and a half years it’s been in existence it has traveled over 10,500 miles through many states, giving rides to over 20,000 people. Ted and his wife Patricia are booked solid in the coming months with festivals, car shows, and other community events in various locations.
However, Ted and Pat didn’t intend for the wagon to be such a big hit. They simply wanted to take it to the Cruisin’ the Coast car show and let the kids at their church’s vacation Bible school take a ride. A rep for their rural electric power association’s magazine wrote an article about the wagon and put Ted’s contact information in it; their phone has been ringing off the hook ever since.
They give of their time and resources whenever they are able, charging modest fees for travel costs (the Radio Flyer gets 7 miles per gallon!) and time. Twice a year in April and October, local business owners cover travel costs for fifteen to twenty people to go to St Jude’s Childrens’ Hospital in Memphis, TN. For two days, they spend time with the children and their families, serving meals, giving out Radio Flyer rides, and doing whatever else they can.
“Those times in April and October are the absolute highlight of our year,” says Ted. “Seeing the kids smile reminds us why we do all of this in the first place.”
Their kindness and generosity doesn’t stop with the children’s hospital – they also visit other organizations and are active members at their church, teaching a Sunday school class to young couples and families. “We didn’t think anyone would want to listen to us, but I guess they do because the classroom’s gotten pretty full,” Ted chuckles.
Ted and Patricia have captured our attention with their creativity. They inspire us to smile contagiously, use our imaginations, and care about other people – especially the innocent and vulnerable.
Keep your eyes open for the big red wagon at Cruisin’ the Coast in October! Ted and Pat, thank you for bringing joy and a sense of wonder by creating something extraordinary we can relate to from our childhoods. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Hopefully we’ll get to go for a ride one day.