In the warm July sun, ten-year-old Joe Sakana’s smooth face, bushy dark hair and thick-lensed eyeglasses reflected in the door handle of the 1989 Volkswagen Bug. But this handle was no longer a part of any car. Joe had decided it would make the perfect second arm for his metal rabbit sculpture. It was one of several car-and bicycle-part animal creatures he and Mike Himmel had been creating in the generations-old Himmel family scrapyard in Swindon.
“Woah! Lookit’ him. Joey, you’re a genius!” Mike said as he raised his own work-goggles onto his afro, which stood up on his head like a patch of dark brown flames. The metre-tall rabbit sculpture was assembled from several different scraps of metal – mostly car engine parts. Its eyes were two small motorbike brake lights with rubber gasket eyelids that made the mechanical bunny look tired and happy at the same time. Mike chuckled. “Looks like he’s sayin’, ‘Me name’s Tonk! Got ’ny carrot cake?’”
Joe laughed. “Tonk! Perfect name,” he said.
Mike and Joe eyed their many sculptures that stood in the clearing with them. The boys had their main play area in the centre of the sprawling junkyard next to a yellow school bus lying on its side, where many different car-part creature sculptures stood. A large metal grasshopper; a turtle with a hubcap shell; a tall frog with a monocle and vest.
“Hey, d’ja notice my dad’s guys pulled that ol’ Volvo away yesterday? It’s uncovered a bunch’a stuff we couldn’t reach before. C’mon!” Mike led Joe down the tall aisle of stacked jagged metal to the new narrow opening in the vast maze of metal scrappery.
“Ooh, look. Awesome fan and motor.” Mike spun the small blade with his finger.
“Hey - what’s this?” Joe reached for an odd-looking item resting inside a dry, cracked rubber tyre. He held up an object the size of a plum. It had two wires sticking out of each side. “Some kinda battery thingy?” He rubbed grime away with his thumb. “Has some foreign language on it.”
“Those barely look like words. Never seen any car part like that before,” Mike said.
“Ha! This looks like a heart actually,” Joe said, holding the
thing up to his own chest.
“I claim it!” Mike said as he swiped it from Joe’s hand. ”I’m gonna put it in ol’ Snappy. It’ll look cool. Like we’re seeing his guts or something.”
“Gotta love guts,” mused Joe. He followed Mike back to their work area where moments later the two pals were leaning over Mike’s alligator sculpture. The car-part creature lay belly-up on a stack of tyres. Mike held a hot soldering iron plugged into a long extension cord.
“Joe, you’re my surgical assistant. Whadda’ they call those?”
“Surgical assistant, I think,” Joe blinked. Mike lowered his goggles.
“Okay. Pliers!” Mike called, then Joe handed over the needle-nose pliers.
“Solder!” Joe handed Mike the spool of super-soft silver wire called solder. Mike touched the pointy tip of the hot iron and soft solder wire to one of the heart’s four copper wires. A puff of smoke rose as the silver liquified into a blob, bonding the copper to the inside of the alligator’s steel rib cage.
Mike put on a funny deep voice, “Assistant. Go out to the waiting room and tell Mrs. Snappy that it’s looking good for her husband.” Both boys laughed.
Mike attached the final wire into place. *poof* A tiny puff of smoke rose. Joe sneezed.
“Well, there you go Mr. Snappy. You can go now— whoa!”
Mike stopped. “What’s that noise?”
“Like a purring cat, sorta,” said Joe.
“Yeah. Maybe it’s— ”
“Uuuuuuurgh!” The mechanical alligator made an electrical rumbling sound, then its tail started to move on its own.
“Whoa!” Joe stepped back. Both boys’ eyes went huge.
“Is it gonna explode or something?” Joe asked, scared.
The whole alligator vibrated and a hot, rusty electrical smell wafted off it.
“Mike! Get away from it!” Joe said, stepping further back. Mike leaned in.
“But there’s no brain or circuits anywhere. It doesn’t make sense,” Mike said, leaning in closer.
“I beg your pardon. My brain works better than either of yours,”the metal alligator spoke...then bent itself upright and into a seated position.
The boys stood with their mouths open.
The alligator turned its head and looked around. It saw Joe’s new rabbit creation. “Seems like you knew exactly what you were making here,” the alligator said. “You just need to get the rest of us going.” The robot clumped heavily to the ground onto all fours.
“Sorry. Rest of us?” asked Joe.
Joe and Mike followed behind Snappy the Alligator whose tail swished side to side as his robotic limbs lurched him forward along the dusty ground. His metal belly dragged along the dirt as he went.
“Here we are,” Snappy said as he stopped and perched himself upright. The boys could hardly believe their eyes.
The robotic creation reached in between a couple of old rusty car radiators and pushed a large tangle of rubber hoses aside. There lay a metal suitcase, completely browned with what looked like a century’s-worth of rust.
“Whoa. How do you know where you’re going?” Mike said with a very eager gleam in his eyes.
“Let us just say, I have been here longer than you might realise.” Mike and Joe exchanged a look. What is this alligator talking about? Snappy forced open the case, and the rusty latches crumbled in his metal gator claws. He pulled back an oily cloth. There in a pile were at least a dozen of the same electric heart that they had installed in Snappy moments ago.
“Oh man,” said Joe, stretching his t-shirt up to clean his sweaty glasses. “There are enough hearts here to bring all of our animal sculptures to life.” He put his glasses back on and looked at Mike. “Do you realise what this means?”
Mike’s freckled nose crinkled as he smiled. “It means summer has officially begun!”