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Local man putters with golf carts

April 03, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

HUYETTS CROSSROADS - Some people might not get too excited about a sports car that maxes out at 20 mph.

William "Butch" Rankin does.

His ruby red "cartvette" crowns the fleet of golf carts he has refurbished in his hand-built shop on the grounds of his home in the Huyetts Crossroads area.

"What I'm doing is a kind of art," said Rankin, 53. "This Corvette in particular is a showpiece."

Rankin spent nearly two months transforming a wrecked E-Z-Go golf cart into a pseudo-sports car that may never cross a green.

"That's my pride and joy," Rankin said, stroking the shiny cart's 15-coat paint job. "Could you imagine somebody hitting that with a golf ball? I'd have a heart attack."

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The cartvette's got just about everything except a club rack.

Rankin overhauled and tweaked the motor so it runs at least 5 mph faster than normal E-Z-Go engines, he said.

He modified the cart's frame with one of the fiberglass bodies he saw in a magazine.

"I just fell in love with them. I said to my wife, 'Joyce, I gotta have one,' " Rankin said.

He then added three coats of metal flake paint and 12 coats of clear finish, a windshield, headlights, custom accelerator pedal and steering wheel, AM/FM radio with cassette, wood grain dash, chrome wheels with baby moon hub caps, an "AH-OO-GA" horn, carpet and custom diamond-pleated seats.

"I do all the color," Joyce Rankin said. "If it don't match, you don't get it."

Rankin visited 10 auto parts stores in the Tri-State area before he found the foot-shaped gas pedal, and spent 10 hours modifying the steering column to install the custom chrome wheel, he said.

He cut and sanded red reflectors to create each of the cartvette's front and rear "lights" so they would look "exactly like a real Corvette," Rankin said.

"I take a lot of pride in the accomplishment because I've got something no one else has," he said. "The more I drive it, the more I'm falling in love with it."

Rankin, who was invited to show the cartvette at the annual Corvette Show in Carlisle, Pa., in August, hopes to sell his creation for $6,500 and begin work on another modified cart, he said.

Similarly modified golf carts cost an average of $10,000 in states such as Florida and Arizona, which boast large retirement communities, Rankin said.

Those carts serve as functional showpieces for their owners, who often drive them everywhere within their self-supporting communities, Rankin said.

It was his own wish for auxiliary transportation that sparked his interest in refurbishing used golf carts - a hobby that now occupies much of Rankin's time, he said.

He wanted a golf cart for use at the Potomac River vacation cottage he used to own, and to traverse the long lane between his home and mailbox.

Rankin thought he could buy a used cart for $600 to $800. He discovered that used golf carts were difficult to find in the Hagerstown area, and carts in good condition cost at least $1,500, he said.

Rankin was en route to Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1993 when he saw a used golf cart dealer and "the idea struck me," he said.

He borrowed $2,000 to buy his first batch of carts. He cleaned, repaired and resold them for $1,800 to $2,700 each, based upon each cart's model year and condition.

Rankin then reinvested the income into his hobby, he said.

Rankin said he's been tinkering with engines since he was a youngster, and he honed his skills through a training school in Augusta, Ga., where he learned the E-Z-Go engine from top to bottom.

He power-washes each cart, applies rubbing compound, cleans the interior, tunes the engine, adjust the valves, checks tire pressure and changes the oil, filter and spark plugs.

He overhauls engines, replaces upholstery and repaints when necessary, Rankin said.

"When I get done with it, it's pretty much as good as new," said Rankin, who now boasts a refurbished fleet of 30 multicolored golf carts.

"I like people to come and see and drive my carts," he said. "I deal in good carts. I don't deal in junk."

Rankin has even equipped his home shop with self-made gadgets designed to increase efficiency.

A wooden rack cradling small golf cart wheels spans one wall, while other parts rest in suitably sized nooks and crannies. A cart-sized handmade hydraulic floor jack takes the pressure off Rankin's knees, he said.

A tow truck winch welded to a removable metal frame turns an ordinary golf cart into a tow cart for its disabled companions.

And a five-gallon bucket rigged with a rubber hose and flow control valve holds the recycled motor oil which stokes the flames in a wood stove Rankin crafted from two metal barrels to keep him warm while he works during winter months.

"I'm a do-it-yourselfer," said Rankin, who in 1997 retired after a 28-year career at Mack Trucks Inc. in Hagerstown. "I build everything."

Since launching his hobby, Rankin has sold both gas and electric models to Hagerstown Housing Authority maintenance crews, farmers, storage building workers, retirees and people with disabilities, he said.

The majority of his clients are folks who own permanent sites at campgrounds, he said.

"If you're in a campground," he said, "you're nobody unless you have a golf cart."

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