ROCKINGHAM — It looks like a patriotic dune buggy, with its painted images of Iwo Jima and an American Eagle. But Doug Hoyle says his metal mash-up of a Volkswagen and a motorcycle can give paraplegics that most American of rights: independence.
By vocation, Hoyle, 56, is a machinist and fabricator at Ina Bearing Co. in Cheraw, South Carolina. By calling, he’s a tinkerer and inventor.
His most proud creation is the Iron Patriot, a hand-driven vehicle with a stick shift and clutch, intended for use primarily by soldiers wounded in combat.
“We’ve got the only two in the world that you can drive with your hands,” Hoyle says of the Iron Patriot and an earlier vehicle that proved too clunky. A Google search confirmed that it’s rare for people who have no use of their legs to be able to use a stick, but it’s not entirely unthinkable.
Hoyle has posted on YouTube a video titled “Doug Hoyle’s Iron Patriot.” By Friday, he had logged 63 views but no comments. His Facebook page, Iron Patriot NC, bears a photo of the vehicle being pulled into a trailer by a winch Hoyle rigged up for that purpose.
In early June, Hoyle and his partners — Bailey Smith, 19, and Kelsye Butler, 18 — took the Iron Patriot to Charlotte for Cyclemania, an event that celebrates motorcycles modified by use for the disabled. Their website, www.TheIronPatriot.com, lists Hoyle’s intentions to show of the vehicle at other events, as yet unscheduled.
In Charlotte, the vehicle piqued curiosity from the moment it rolled out of its trailer, said Tom Haselden of Disability Rights and Resources, which sponsored the Cyclemania fundraiser.
“It was really cool,” Haselden said. “A tremendous amount of work went into it, (and Hoyle’s) heart is in the right place.
“People were real impressed.”
Hoyle grew up with a disabled cousin, with whom he built his first manual-drive vehicle. He also remembers watching news reports of the Vietnam War, which — he says in his YouTube video — inspired him to continue his work on a way for disabled soldiers “to get their gears back.”
“I remember looking at the TV and seeing the images of that war — the sight of our soldiers dragging other soldiers through the swamp and loading them onto helicopters,” he says in the video. “(It) stuck with me for the rest of my life.”
Now, Hoyle said, he feels it’s his mission to find people who can use his vehicle, which has motorcycle-like hand controls, a stick shift and clutch that can be operated by hand.
Hoyle demonstrated the vehicle one afternoon this week, in a downtown parking lot.
Its seat sideways to welcome him, then slid back into the vehicle, situating the stick and clutch lever between Hoyle’s knees. The vehicle growled to life when Hoyle cranked the ignition, then rolled smoothly around the lot.
Hoyle used car tires to give the vehicle more traction than motorcycle tires would have provided. And he advocated wearing a helmet because the vehicle is open to the elements, like a motorcycle.
Because the Beetle engine, transmission and drive train are from a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle, the Iron Patriot is street legal but exempt from state inspection. It also cost only $12 for a tag.
Hoyle and his partners are seeking a provisional patent that would register their concept but allow others to steal their ideas. Patenting the vehicle would cost too much, and Smith says what’s important to Hoyle is being first, not limiting fabrication rights.
Cost for the Iron Patriot, Hoyle said, was $15,000 and two years of work, using “big and shiny” stock parts. He got professional help with a brake problem and paid a custom shop to paint the sides and front fender with images of Iwo Jima, Vietnam, and an eagle and Purple Heart.
But most of what went into the Iron Patriot is intangible, Hoyle said.
“There was a whole lot of disappointment” involved in crafting the vehicle, Hoyle said, but it paid off because “now it works good.”
“It’s an act of love to show people you can do stuff like this.”