Monday, October 1, 2012

DIY Tutorial: Turn a garden cart into a train ride

A while back I had an awesome train birthday party for a very special Little Spaghetti when he turned two.  One of the highlights (for me, at least) was the train I made for him to ride in out of a plain ol' garden cart.

You know when you do something that just makes you feel so clever?  This was definitely one of those projects.  I felt like a genius.  And now you can, too.  (I'll even let you take the credit from your awed party guests).

I have thought of so many other things I can transform this cart into: a car, a submarine, a sleigh for Christmastime.  The possibilities are endless.

First, you need a garden cart.  This is ours.  It's metal, and the wheels happened to be yellow which happened to match the gray, black and yellow color scheme of the train party perfectly.  I'm pretty sure ours came from one of the big box home improvement stores...the one with the orange logo that rhymes with Home Shmepot.  Anyway, the sides aren't solid; they're sort of a metal mesh.

Next, you need your train sides.  I stalk frequent Craigslist and happened to pick up a whole stack of mat boards from a frame shop that was doing some spring cleaning.  Mat boards are the cardboardy things that go around pictures when you frame them.  They're sturdy and colored, which was perfect for this project.  You could probably also use cardboard or foam core, and then paint them whatever color you like.  My mat boards were 32" by 40".  If you must have mat boards, try somewhere like Aaron Brothers or Michaels.

I free-handed my train shapes.  I practiced on a piece of cardboard.  Then, when I had a shape I liked, I traced it onto the back of the mat board.

Cutting this sucker out was not fun...but it was well worth it.  I used a combination of scissors, a box cutter, and sheer, brute strength.  The tight corners in the windows and around the stack were a pain in the behind.  Just don't say I didn't warn you.  Or curse me when you're at your lowest, whatever - just persevere.

I originally thought about gluing ribbon to the side of my train, but then I saw the colored Duck tape, and it seemed like a way easier solution.  A yellow stripe and a black stripe down each side, and I had what I wanted.

Then I printed out a number "2" (since it was Little Spaghetti's second birthday and all. Really original, I know).  I cut an oval around each number and glued them on the train sides over the stripes.

See?  Pretty darn self-explanatory, but I took a picture anyway.

Then came the tricky part: Attaching the sides to the train.  I wanted to be able to remove them without ruining them so I could put them back on if I wanted to, but also use the garden cart for hauling dirt and rocks and other gardening things.

I had some velcro cord organizer straps laying around, and they were gray.  Like this:
So I decided to use those.  I cut slits in the side of the train, then wrapped the velcro strips through each set of slits.  Then, I wrapped the velcro through the mesh sides of the cart.  Sorry I don't have a better visual, but I hope it makes sense.

I put two velcro strips on each side, near the top corners of the cart sides, to hold the whole thing in place. When you're mounting your sides, be sure they're high enough not to get in the way of the wheels when you turn the cart.

You could probably also use zip ties or string.  If your cart has solid sides, you might try some of that super sticky velcro they sell for hanging up pictures: Just stick one side of it to the cart and the other to the train?  I don't know, but I bet you can come up with something.

I also made gray panels out of the leftover mat board for the front and back of the cart.  Just be sure to cut space for your wagon handle so you can still drive the cart.

And that's it!  I sewed up a couple of big, long pillows to put in the cart for the kids to sit on so they didn't have to lean against the metal cart, but it was probably overkill.

Little Spaghetti was so excited to see his very own train.

Finally, get your sister (or other unsuspecting relative) to offer to help with, "whatever you need for the birthday party," and assign that person the job of pulling the train.  We were going to have train rides outside, but it was raining.  The kids didn't seem to mind being in the garage.

And that birthday boy's smile is all I need to call this one a success!

Did you make one?  Make sure you send me a picture; I want to see your garden cart in action.


  1. This is absolute genius Lisa, your son is so lucky, I'd have loved something like this when I was his age, it looks so cool in all honesty.

  2. What an absolutely adorable idea! I love it!

  3. The Lil' Spaghetti would be an even better name for a train than Thomas.

  4. The look on his face says it all. Well done mom!

  5. That's really creative. It's indeed more fun to ride on it because you made it more attractive to the kids. He's obviously happy with what you've done.

  6. How cute! I wish I could find a cart like that!