1:21pm

Wed June 15, 2011
Science/Health

Banana-on-Wheels 'Peels' into Grant County

No, you’re not seeing things. You really did see a Big Banana Car in downtown Dry Ridge. Steve Braithwaite, of Coopersville, Pa., pealed into town in a four-passenger banana shaped car and ended up at Dry Ridge Auto Parts to get directions to the I-75 Camper Village where they planned to spend the night. “It was neat, it was pretty cool, I didn’t know what to think when he pulled in the driveway,” said Gary Brockman of Dry Ridge Auto Parts. “ I knew it was a banana, but I couldn’t figure out why it had wheels on it. It was pretty awesome.”

It took Braithwaite about two and a half years from the time he had the idea to getting his fruitmobile roadworthy. It gets about 15 miles per gallon and can keep up with traffic at 65 to 70 mph.

“I thought it was crazy every single moment,” Braithwaite said. “But I’ve never been so focused on anything. It just—it came to fruition.”

Yet, Braithwaite, who designed and built the car, has a serious motive behind his madcap capers.

“My mother died of D.V.T. (deep vein thrombosis), which is a blood clot and the terrible irony was, she had breast cancer in England,” he said. “She had an expensive experimental cancer treatment that cured her cancer, and so to celebrate, she flew to America and she spent a week in America, went back, and on the flight back she contracted a blood clot and was dead within a week. So the whole celebration of being cancer free, ended up killing her. It was very, very unfortunate.”

According to the DVT Foundation website, about half of those with DVT, never recognize the symptoms, which include: leg pain or swelling or a leg becoming purplish or blue.

Now Braithwaite, uses his banana car as a vehicle to spread awareness about the condition. He and his brother, Spade Braithwaite, are planning a world excursion in the car to collect donations and keep awareness at peak. You can follow their itinerary on their Facebook page or at BigBananaCar.com.

Braithwaite said his mother would have loved the Big Banana Car. Half of any donations will go to the DVT Foundation and the other half to fund their trip around the world.

“Bananas are intrinsically whimsical,” he said. “I just enjoyed the idea of driving a whimsical vehicle down the road.”

He said he got the inspiration from standing in a checkout line at a gas station.

“There was a bowl of fruit right next to me,” he said. “I’d never really noticed before, but half of the bananas, instead of being that boomerang shape that you think of bananas being, half of them just curve at the back and then they run pretty straight. So, I’m looking at one of these and thinking, that could be a vehicle. The wheels will go there, the engine there, the passengers—I could build a huge one of those and drive it on the road.”

When he brought up the idea of a round-the-world-trip in a fruit-shaped car to his brother; he was a little surprised at how calm and compliant his brother was about the idea.

“It turns out, he agreed so readily, because he never in a million years thought I’d go ahead and do it,” Braithwaite said.

Braithwaite assembled a team of capable people to get the show on the road. Liz O’Neill has the distinguished title of Crew-Knitter. O’Neill gave Braithwaite access to her huge unoccupied workshop to assemble the car. She has a number of duties and is in charge of marketing Big Banana Car T-shirts.

“We have actually just sent our first check from T-shirt sales for $1,200 to the DVT Foundations headquarters,” O’Neill said. “I drove Bucks County Transport in Bucks County, Pa. for many years, and I heard this was happening, and I wanted to be a big part of it. Where can a person go, who has a chauffeur-driven banana to take them all over, It’s absolutely wonderful!”

Last weekend, they attended the Banana Split Festival in Wilmington, Ohio. Their next stop? “Chiquita® Bananas –the world’s favorite fruit!”headquarters in Cincinnati.

Greg Brockman of the auto parts store may have described the car and the team’s quest best.

“It’s something different,” he said. “It’s going to be a wild ride!”