The inspiration for this project started where a lot of projects start—with a search on Pinterest. I came across a classic Radio Flyer wagon that had been transformed into an elaborate fire truck. I loved the concept, especially the idea of being able to wheel your kid around for trick-or-treating. But it also struck me that this design would be a lot simpler with one of those wooden Town & Country Radio Flyer wagons I grew up with. I thought I could come up with a design that's a little more straightforward. I'm not sure I achieved that by any means, but my design does skip the wiring of sirens and flashing lights (which seemed like a win to me). I also wanted to come up with a design I hadn’t seen done over and over again on the internet.
I love this concept because even though it’s a fairly involved Halloween costume, its use is by no means limited to Halloween. I don’t know about your kids, but my brother and I would have definitely spent a lot of time pulling each other around in a wagon like this and loading and unloading the bed of the dump truck. Not to mention, it instantly makes a trip to the park way more exciting—and with some red, white, and blue streamers you could bust it out at the 4th of July parade! I intentionally designed this truck to easily go back and forth between dump truck and wagon, so you and your kids can easily transition from function to play and back again. The dimensions of this project were based off of the Radio Flyer All Terrain wagon, which I believe has the same dimensions as the Town & Country model but with beefier wheels. Even if you don’t have the same wagon as us, you can easily adjust the dimensions to fit your needs. And if you’re using the same model, I always recommend you double-check all of our measurements against your wagon since sizes can vary slightly—you can use our diagrams for the truck cab and the truck bed as a guide.
This entire project can be put together using 1 1/2” screws. However, for all of the visible screws, I used 1 5/8” finish screws because of their small screw head (the finish screws don’t come in a shorter length). If you’re going to do this, make sure you have a few 1 1/2” or 1 1/4” screws on hand for step 6.
Step 1: Cut plywood for dump truck cab and bed
First, we’re going to start with cutting out the plywood pieces. I find the easiest way to do this is with a straightedge for the long sides and a framing square to ensure my corners are square. I’m using 3/4” plywood for the cab of the truck because the pieces are cut fairly narrow, and I wanted it to be plenty sturdy. The bed of the truck, in contrast, is cut out of 1/2” plywood to keep it lightweight.
Measure and mark the 3/4” and 1/2” plywood according to the cutting guide. Clamp down the wood and make the outside cuts with a circular saw. Cut out notches with a jig saw. To cut out the windows of the cab, drill a hole with a large drill bit inside of the markings along each side of the window. Use this as a starting point for your jig saw, working from the hole out to the corners of the window. Turn the saw on high and move slowly to get an accurate, clean cut.
Step 2: Cut boards
Clamp down the boards and cut to length with a circular saw. Using a speed square as a guide will ensure an even, straight cut. Cut two-by-four to 18 1/2” for the front bumper. Cut one-by-three into two 13 1/2” pieces, and two 23 3/4” pieces. Cut one-by-four into two 24 1/2” pieces and one 18 1/2” piece.
Step 3: Sand
Sand all pieces with a sanding sponge or power sander. Pay close attention to the cut sides to eliminate the possibility of slivers—this is especially a concern since this truck will be used by kids. Keep in mind that with sanding, the smoother the wood, the better the paint will look. I didn’t sand much of the plywood’s surface, and it definitely made my glossy spray paint look not-so-glossy.
Step 4: Assemble dump truck cab
To assemble the cab, first attach the sides to the roof. Next, secure the front of the cab to the right side, fitting the front piece in the notch. Secure the front to the left side by driving a screw at an angle down through the window frame, into the top of the front piece. The front piece isn’t as long as the side pieces—but don’t worry, it’ll be covered by the bumper in the end. Add a support piece in the back of the cab. This will help stabilize the thin left side and will also sit on top of the wagon, determining its height. Place your cab over the front of your wagon and decide where you want this board to sit. We attached ours 3” up from the bottom. The goal is to cover the sides of the wagon without running into the wheels. The width of this piece is also up to you. We made ours wide enough to be a seat.
I used the same technique to attach all the pieces for this project. I found it to be an easy way to line up the pieces precisely. I’ll spell it out here using the roof and side of the cab as the example: pre-drill through the roof and drive screws partway through, so they’re just peeking out the other side. Line up with the top of the side piece and press together so the screws leave small indents. Pre-drill in these places. Add glue and then fit the pieces together and drive the screws all the way in.
Step 5: Add door to dump truck cab
To add the driver’s side door to the cab, attach hinges to the front edge of the door. Fit the door in the cab to make sure it’ll work with the added bulk of the hinges. We ran into this problem ourselves, but altered the dimensions so hopefully you don’t have to! Once you’ve ensured your door fits, attach the other side of the hinges to the inside of the front piece. Make sure the face of your door is flush with the front edge and the door frame; ours ended up being a little inset, so the door wouldn’t close all the way.
We thought our door had a snug enough fit that it didn’t need a latch, but in the end we added a hook and eye on the inside to keep it closed. You could also use a magnet as a catch like we did on the door of our mid-century litter box.
Step 6: Add moulding
At this point, we noticed that the cab was very front-heavy, and when fitted on the wagon it tipped forward unless held in place. This is an easy fix with some moulding pieces.
Fit the cab onto the front of the wagon and mark where the front brackets line up with the inside of the cab. Cut two short lengths of 11/16” square moulding. Add moulding to the inside front of the cab body so they line up with and slide into the brackets on the front of the wagon. I added a plastic shim between the moulding and the cab at the right height to act as a stop. Make sure to pre-drill through the moulding so it doesn’t split. Secure in place with 1 1/2” screws (make sure to switch to 1 1/2” screws if you’re using 1 5/8” finish screws for the rest of the project).
For this fix, we used square moulding. We had some left over from projects we did over the summer, and it was the easiest fix for us. Alternately, you could rip a wider board down to 3/4” and easily get the same effect. It’s totally up to you!
Step 7: Spray-paint dump truck cab
Now, here comes the fun step! Lay out a drop cloth, and in a well-ventilated area, spray-paint the whole cab blue. Our can of spray paint recommended adding multiple coats after a few minutes, so we quickly gave the outside of the cab three coats and went over the inside with a quick coat so it wouldn’t stand out too much.
Leave the cab to dry while you continue with the building process.
Step 8: Build dump truck bed base
To build the bed base we’ll be working with all of the one-by-four and one-by-three pieces we cut in the beginning. Attach the 23 3/4” side tops to the 24 1/2” side bottoms, lining up the front end and leaving an overhang on the back end. Attach the 18 1/2” back end to the two sides that were just constructed. Slide in the 13 1/2” back top pieces and secure with screws through the back end. Add the 13 1/2” front top by pre-drilling at an angle through the front piece into the side pieces. Secure all the boards together with 1 1/2” screws. (I actually used 1 5/8” screws, so I could use trim-head screws.)
Step 9: Secure dump truck bed base
Place the bed base on the wagon and mark where the center hole of the front brackets line up. Pre-drill through the wood so a screw or nail can be added that goes through the wood and into the hole in the middle of the wagon bracket.
I did try making measurements to determine where exactly to drill through the wood, but when that didn’t work I eyeballed it and got it right on the first try (but be ready with some wood putty in case your luck isn’t as good).
Originally, I put a screw through the hole to keep everything in place, but then swapped it out for a small nail because it’s easier to remove and put back and doesn’t require any tools on-hand.
Step 10: Paint dump truck bed base
Remove the bed base from the wagon and lay it out on a drop cloth along with the two-by-four bumper you cut earlier. Spray paint both pieces silver. I used this hammered silver spray paint because I thought the effect of the paint made the pieces look like galvanized metal, which seemed fitting.
Step 11: Build dump truck bed
While the base bed and bumper are drying, it’s time to tackle the most important part of the dump truck: the dumper. Take the 1/2” plywood pieces that have been pre-cut. First, attach the front piece to the sides of the bed. I used the same technique from building the cab, where I pre-drilled the first piece and then added screws in partway. I found that to be the easiest way to line everything up. You could probably also achieve this by having an extra set of hands to hold things in place. Make sure to pre-drill pieces to avoid splitting, and secure with glue and 1 1/2” screws.
Once the front and sides are attached, slide in the bottom piece and secure with screws. Line up the back with the bottom and determine how the back is going to be angled. Measure the distance from the edge of the side pieces and then add 1/4”. Draw a line this far from the edge on the outside of the side pieces for a drilling guide. Pre-drill along this line, into the edge of the back piece and secure with screws.
Lastly, cut a leftover piece of one-by-three to 15 5/8” and fit it inside the bed at the back end. Secure with wood glue. This will add a little more bulk for the hinge screws to attach to.
Step 12: Paint the dump truck bed
Finish the bed by spray-painting the whole thing yellow. Fair warning here: yellow can be a very difficult paint color to get good coverage with. As you can see in the photo, each coat was very light, and it took a lot to build up the coverage I wanted. In fact, it took three cans of spray paint and five coats.
Step 13: Attach bumper to cab
When all of the paint is dry, it’s time for assembly. Place the cab on the ground and position the bumper at the front, resting it on the ground and overhanging each side evenly. Secure in the same manner as assembling the cab by pre-drilling through the inside. Drive the screws in partway, and then position the bumper by pressing it against the screws and pre-drilling where the indents are. Secure with 1 1/2” screws.
Step 14: Attach bed to base
Next, place the base of the bed on the wagon and position the bed on top. Line up the front of the bed with the front of the base and center it. With a pencil, mark the overhang in the back. Attach hinges at this mark to the bed and then to the base along the back edge. It’s definitely helpful to have an extra set of hands for this step!
Step 15: Add a hook and eye
Our last step for assembly was adding a hook and eye to keep the bed of the truck in place. This was just a little safety precaution so no one will dump your stuff—or your children riding in the back—accidentally.
Step 16: Add design to your dump truck
The last step for this project was design! This is where you get to have fun and be as detailed as you want. We added handles to the sides of the dump truck so kids can lift the bed. We also added red and white battery-powered push lights to the front and back that can turn on (and don’t need to be wired). Lastly, we added a logo to the side of the cab. This truck is definitely ready for the trick-or-treat circuit!
This project is great for Halloween, but the fact that you and your kids can use it year-round makes it that much better. Have fun decorating it and making it personal to your kids' Halloween costumes, and make sure to check out some of our other DIY costumes. If you're looking for inspiration, try out our DIY lightsaber for the Star Wars fans in your family, our homemade astronaut costume for your space fanatic, and include your cat in the Halloween fun with our DIY cat taco costume.