'Rat rods' built one piece at a time
Roger Rentola and Bryan Dagel don't worry about waxing their quirky vintage vehicles. They are, after all, rat rods. Unlike their more polished cousins in the antique and street rod family of older automobiles, shine is not necessary for a rat ro...
Roger Rentola and Bryan Dagel don't worry about waxing their quirky vintage vehicles. They are, after all, rat rods.
Unlike their more polished cousins in the antique and street rod family of older automobiles, shine is not necessary for a rat rod to stand out. Neither is a particular production year.
What makes a rat rod a rat rod is really a matter of creativity combined with mechanical know-how, resulting in a sort of mobile collage that comes together to make one vehicle.
Rentola's truck, for example, was lovingly constructed from several trucks, vans, cars and a school bus, along with a beer keg, a cow horn, a couple of street signs and an antique Boy Scout canteen. Come to think of it, Rentola's truck looks more like it came straight out of the Disney-Pixar movie "Cars" than the Johnny Cash song about a
factory worker who stole the parts to build his own car over a matter of years.
Today, Rentola, Dagel and fellow members of his Rat Rod Club are hoping there will be hundreds of like-minded auto artists parked next to TJ's Country Store for the second annual Rat Rod Rendezvous from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in downtown Mahtowa.
"It's hard to define a rat rod, because every builder has a different idea of what they want," Dagel said when asked to define a rat rod versus a street rod. "I see it as more of an expression of art, what you can come up with. Plus, you don't have to polish and clean during a show, just BS with everyone and enjoy. There's not so much ego or keeping up with the Joneses."
Rat rods do have to be street legal -- which means in addition to running they need turn signals, brake lights, headlights and windshield wipers -- and owners should plan to drive their own creations to rat rod gatherings rather than hauling them on a trailer as some street rod
Dagel built his rat rod after meeting Rentola at Spring Fever Days three or four years ago.
"Roger had the only rat rod there," Dagel said. "There was a crowd standing around, just looking and talking. I thought, 'Hey, I can do this.' "
It was a bus driver's holiday of sorts for Dagel, who restores vintage vehicles for a living. He started with the frame for a 1949 F100 pickup truck, added a motor from a 1965 Impala and went from there.
"I have kids, and there's none of that 'Don't touch' stuff with a rat rod," he said. "They can climb all over it."
Of course, a person doesn't have to be a professional auto mechanic or car body expert to build a rat rod.
But it helps.
"I've been repairing cars, trucks and tractors for years, along with toasters and anything else my boss wanted to throw at me," said Rentola, who was a heavy equipment mechanic in Cloquet for years. "[When building a rat rod] you just combine your entire knowledge of everything."
While a great deal of satisfaction comes from figuring out how to make a working automobile out of a mish-mash of parts from vehicles that may span several decades, the little touches are the icing on the cake.
Like the "flying eyeball" attached to Rentola's exhaust pipe (his son, Jeremy, made it for him), or the church pew that Dagel made into a holder for two kegs (one full-size, the other a pony keg) that serve as gas tanks sitting in the bed of his pickup truck. Rentola's gear-shift handle matches his gas tank: a Pabst beer keg.
And it's hard to miss the road signs that Rentola used for floors inside his truck, with large black arrows on a gold background pointing straight ahead.
Driving to a show is nearly as much fun as being there.
"Every gas station is a car show," said Rentola, who uses an old broom handle to judge how much gas is left in the tank/keg. "You can figure on a half-hour stop at least. People stop putting gas in their cars and ask all kinds of questions."
Both are looking forward to today's show in Mahtowa, though they admit they have no idea how many cars will be featured.
"We've been advertising in the Twin Cities, and I've taken fliers to shows in St. Cloud," Dagel said. "I had a guy -- he has a Jack-and-Coke-themed truck -- who wanted to know if he'd be shunned. Of course not. This is a rat rod show."