Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Rattle Traps

My life in appalachia -Rattle Traps

Do you know what a rattle trap is? It’s a vehicle that isn’t up to par-one that rattles down the road as you drive; a vehicle that dies every time you stop at a red light or stop sign; a vehicle that floats down the road so bad that you can barely keep it in your lane.

We own 2 rattle traps-the one you see in the photo (I’d like to push it off a cliff) doesn’t rattle so bad-or maybe it does and you just can’t hear it over the hoss of a gas guzzling motor it has in it. But it does die at the most inopportune moments and I can barely keep it in the road it drifts so.

Our other rattle trap really rattles-especially in the right rear somewhere. Its got so many rattles I’m positive people can hear me coming before they see me-but it drives like a dream, holds the road like a race car, and can go forever on a tank of gas.

I’ve heard the term rattle trap my whole life. If you’ve ever ridden in a rickety vehicle the term makes perfect sense and one would think that’s where the saying originated from a rattle trap vehicle-but it didn’t.

I recently discovered the saying wasn’t about a vehicle at all-it was about something you held in your hand. Check out what the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has to say:

“Rattle trap noun A noise-making device swung in the air, often used by pranksters at serenades.

1939 Hall Coll. Catons Grove TN I guess you people would like to know about serenades and how young folks got along back seventy years ago and longer. We had serenades. They’d make old big rattle traps they’d call’em…My My! How they’d rattle and bang around (Rhoda McMillon) c1975 Lunsford It Used to Be 128 A rattletrap is made by taking a piece of hard wood, first trimming it in such a way that you can hold it in the hand. And on the end you shape the wood into a cog that is longer on one face-rather in the form of a ratchet. One side of the tooth of the cog is trimmed long, the other short. Then on the end of that cog a piece is screwed down, just tight enough till it can revolve around as you swing it. You put in three pegs in that piece-that’d be, say an inch and half long. You take a tough, springy white-oak strip of wood so one end will rest on the cog. And as you swing it around it will make all the noise you want. That’s what they call the rattletrap”

Any rattle traps in your driveway?



Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    susie swanson
    December 13, 2011 at 10:12 am

    I know about rattle traps relly well Tipper. That’s all we’ve had until recently, hope it don’t turn in to one. My dad bless his heart, that’s all he ever drove..

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    December 13, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I’m very familiar with rattle traps. My husband says these roads that are filled with pot holes are responsible for making vehicles rattle traps, that’s why he drives so slow over ’em.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    December 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I find it fascinating to see ‘rattletraps’ actually Sometimes, however, they drive a bit too slow for some roads. At our age we look and ‘remember when.’ That’s fun!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    December 12, 2011 at 8:28 am

    That’s a good looking truck and 4×4 to boot! I hope you don’t push it off a cliff but if you do please,please take the UGA tag off first, you don’t want to bend it!!

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    I’ve heard and used that term all my life. Driven a few too.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    December 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Alas, my front yard is full of rattletraps! Mitchell’s poor Tacoma has a body that has been abused in every way possible-it has been wrecked, used as a log truck(trees have fell on it-I was in it!) & it has pushed, pulled, & dragged things more than twice it’s size. Mitchell adores it. His other Toyota truck is a 1986 with over 250,000 miles on it. It’s seat springs are broken(ouch!), it is so rusty you can see through it, & no matter how cold it is or how many months it sits idle, it starts like a dream. Everytime. However, it’s ability to run has nothing to do with how well it’s breaks work!! Mitchell’s midlife crisis is a not a Corvette, but a 1990 Haynes Electric line truck. It would take a book to tell you what all is wrong with it & why it should never, ever be used. He adores it, too. Sigh.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Tipper, hubby and I have had so many rattle-traps in our day. It felt strange when we actually had something brandnew to drive!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 11, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Honk, Honk, Rattle, Rattle, Crash, Beep Beep!

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Yep, my ’49 Chevy powerglide that I paid $200 for. My father and I headed out fishing in that old car and before we got out of town that ole rattle trap “blew up” very early one morning. Since it happened in front of 2 car dealers we waited til they opened as we still wanted to go fishing. The Chevy place opened and nobody would give us the time of day. Guess we looked pretty rough in our “overhauls.” After standing around and no salesman rushing us, we walked across the street to the Dodge dealer. We were waited on and my father bought a new Dodge Dart. As we continued on our fishing trip my Dad waved (if you know what I mean) at the Chevy guys.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    December 11, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    We have a 1964 Red Chevy Pick Up that we both just love to rattle around these country dirt roads in : )

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    December 11, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    I had my share of rattle trap cars when I was young plus in my later years thought the world of them especially the ones like the one in the picture, I would love to have one now even if I don’t need it. Used to have some old ones 1940 Chevy sedan and 1946 Chevy pickup but sold them a few years ago.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 11, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Tipper—The first vehicle I owned, far longer ago than I want to think about although it was a 1964 Ford Falcon, eventually became the epitome of a rattletrap. It took a quart of oil for ever two tanks of gas, spouted fumes to such a degree it would have given Al Gore heart failure (and I was living in Nashville, his home stomping grounds, at the time), and had about as useful a serendipitous locking system as one could want. It was a straight shift and over time the pot metal holding the gear shift to the steering column had cracked and broken. You could literally remove the gear shift, and that’s usually what I did, placing it under the seat. It also had its own special air conditioning, a massive hole between the area housing the motor and the inside of the car. Talk about cold in bitter weather! I eventually sold it, with the mileage somewhere north of 200,000, for $100. Ann worked at a bank and did the paper work, then the guy who bought it called me in a panic. He had it started but couldn’t shift into reverse. Since it was parked between a hedge and a fence, getting it into reverse was essential. I showed up in due course, got it out of the drive and into first gear, and watched him depart in a cloud of black smoke, he was still winding it up in first gear when he went out of hearing.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Have always called those kind of vehicles a rattletrap. Never heard of it referring to something else.

  • Reply
    Madge @ The View From Right Here
    December 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Interesting… I always thought it was vehicle related too…

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    December 11, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Fortunately, I had one of those mild-mannered, pocket-protectin’, unknown occupation fathers who worked at the K-25 nuclear weapons development operation in Oct Ridge, TN, by day. Ah, but at night, he was a drag racein’, car hoppin’, turn the VW into a rocket racer kind of guy.
    No rattletraps allowed (in either definition). As far as the car-concerned usage, my primary driving difficulty was keeping our series of news and olds from taking flight.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    I like that truck! Down through the years all our vehicles came under that title or description.
    Some of the other pet names for ours were Rippsy, Jittney Bus and whatever. We would boast about how frugal we had to live and who had the worst vehicle. I remember once this guy down at the gas station said, “Son, don’t put much gas in my old truck it might clog the carbureator cause the tank is rusty above the $2.00 mark.”
    If we’d had one like that truck in the picture, we’d thought we were “Uptown” sho-nuff.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    December 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    we always used rattletrap to refer to old,worn out cars too. I’ve got a rattletrap 18 year old pickup that loves gas as much as a farmer loves a cool glass of water after several hours in a hayfield

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    The device you describe is usually refered to in England as a “football rattle” since they were carried by spectators at soccer games to cheer on their team. They are not allowed any more; too many people used them as weapons!

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I have had my share of rattle traps over the years. Especially that mustard green Hornet I drove until the exhaust pipe fell off and you could hear me coming well before I got there. LOL

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    For anyone who read Bill Burnett’s reply and that don’t know, Needmore is minor metropolis up on the Little Tennessee and Wiggin’s Creek is one of it’s suburbs.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I always thought it was referring to vehicles as well! My husband would rather drive a rattle trap vehicle that gets good gas mileage, than anything particularly fancy!

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    December 11, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    You said “we own” two rattle traps…that’s the key! I OWN one with almost two hundred and thirty thousand miles on it! Not having a car payment makes the rattles sound kinda sweet. I didn’t know rattle trap meant anything but an old car!

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Have you ever thought about selling that truck in the picture.
    Looks like s great trap line truck
    I like old beaters my best truck I like that never failed me and it had holes everywhere LOL.
    The only thing that kept it together was the bondo gas tank pipe was wired to it but go where I wanted to go.
    How much does a truck like that cost down there sister.

  • Reply
    December 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    since everything I drove came under the title rattle trap, until I met my hubby, who will not drive one. it is news to me that rattle trap is something other than a vehicle that is as you describe.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    December 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Ed, we used to make a “bull roarer” also by shaving a piece of wood about eighteen inches long till the sides tapered much like the back of an airplane wing then drilling a hole in one end through which you attach a long piece of cord. As you swing the wood you can feed out more line or shorten it to change the tone which sounds much like a didgeridoo, alternating the speed also changes the tone. As for the split stick with the laurel leaf inserted and trimmed to the shape of the stick, I made these and called crows (sorry Tipper) into shotgun range to end their destruction of our cornfields when the corn was just coming up. I wonder if these were just Needmore & Wiggins Creek crafts. As for the pictured “Rattletrap” I bet if the Deer Hunter took that ugly tag off the front bumper and replaced it with a Tigerpaw tag it would help it’s performance a lot. A “Blue Oval” instead of that “Bowtie” would also help since everyone knows tough trucks don’t wear Bowties.

  • Reply
    Rick Kratzke
    December 11, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Interesting, I always referred it to vehicles like you. I guess we learn something new every day.
    Don’t push that truck over the cliff without thinking of giving it to me first. 😉

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    December 11, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Owned me one of those rattle trap trucks once, my Dad told me, son you’ll have to be sure and cut the engine off at the pump or you’ll never fill it up, it was a 1980 4×4 with a rebuilt 400 small block motor with an R.V. cam, strong as an Ox. The odometer did not work along with other things, at times I could not keep it running, the best I could tell it got about 6 miles a gallon, cost me a small fortune to get around in, had to finally let her go. I got tired of going down the road on a full tank of gas and a empty stomach..

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 11, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I’ve got one in my yard plus we’ve owned a few though. One we had to put in park and keep a foot on both the gas…to keep it running; and the brake…to keep from running the light.
    Never did hear of the noise maker variety though, although our did make a racket.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 11, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Oh Tipper, the Deer Hunter is gonna get you for disparaging that truck. He loves that truck. It reminds him of the one he had when he was a kid. This is the truck he worked so hard to put a new motor in. LOL
    Yep, I’ve had a rattle trap in my life. In fact the one I’m driving now will get to that category before too much more time goes by.
    I did not know that the word “rattletrap” did not originate with old noisy cars. I’ve heard those hand held toys called “noise makers” but never “rattletrap”.

  • Reply
    Mama Crow
    December 11, 2011 at 10:49 am

    The best rattle trap that ever came into my life was when I was about 10, and spent the summers on the creek with a girl cousin and 4 boy cousins. Uncle Bill (father to the boys) had a very fine rattle trap with most of the floor board gone on the passenger’s side, and it was always a scary thrill, and joyous fun when it was my turn to ride in the front with Uncle Bill and watch the road go by. On Mon,Wed, & Fri the alternator would go out, and the other days he’d have a flat tar. Oh I loved those summers. To this day, I still love sitting on a sun warmed rock, and listen to the wisdom the creek has for me today. Mama Crow.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 11, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Looks like some good muddin tires on the rattle trap. Want to sell ’em before you push it over?
    When I was young we made what we called a “bull roar”. It was a thin piece of wood with a little hole in one end and a string through it. We would sling it around our heads and if it was shaped just right, it would spin and make a roar that was supposed to sound like a bull.
    We also would cut a little green piece of wood, split one end about two inches and insert a “laurel” leaf. Trim the leaf back to the wood and it makes sort of a reed that you can blow across and make a pretty good noise.

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