The Origin of the Pat-Pat

There is one topic that never fails to elicit a laugh from the villagers. “I am writing about many things,” I usually say, “Like the hashhash, the Saints, the pat-pats…”

“Ah,” They say, squinting their eyes in confusion until I confirm by pantomiming a purring engine. “Paht-paht-paht-paht-paht-paht,” I say and everyone laughs and nods. The pat-pat goes by many names, but this little engine has been a great help to Turkish farmers and is gaining market share by the year.

A number of people confirmed that a majority of farmer households – at least in Afyon – own one.

Pat-pats line up for a going-away party in Gebeçeler

These vehicles run on diesel fuel and can reach speeds of 80-90 kilometers per hour (about 45 MPH). Everyone says they get better gas mileage than car – estimates range from thirty to seventy percent more efficient, but it is not easy to pin down exact numbers for an unregulated and hand-built vehicle, so I’ll just pass along the answers I got: “it runs for a whole hour on just one liter,” “maybe 100 kilometers from four liters?”

People are buying more pat-pats than ever and everyone cited economic reasons - these noisy carts can hardly be considered status symbols. Instead, they bring the benefits of mechanized transport to farmers who otherwise could not afford it.

I saw my first pat-pat factory in Gebeçeler, but factory is not the right word. The vehicles are built and serviced in a garage about the size of an auto mechanic’s shop, with an output of between one and three per month.

Ismail Mengü and his son Mikail building the pat-pat chassis at their shop in Gebeçeler

The engine is actually a modified pump, which once linked to a crankshaft and a frame can efficiently propel the cart and whatever is stocked on its flatbed. These small irrigation pumps are a common sight in this agricultural land and have been used for generations to get water out of the ground and onto the fields.

While the pat-pat doesn’t offer the comfort of a car it has one huge advantage: it costs between 3,000 and 5,000 TL ($2,000-$3000). Considering that Dutch-made tractor that are popular in Afyon costs about 60,000 TL and a car is somewhere around 20,000 TL, it is not surprising that these motorized carts are always zooming around the village roads.

The surprise is how they were invented. Here’s where the first water pump became a vehicle:

The derelict workshop of Ismail Aktekin

This was the workshop of Ismail Aktekin, sitting untouched on the outskirts of the Altuntaş village, located five miles outside of Akşahir. “He spent twenty years playing with it,” said his grandson, who has inherited his grandfather’s name and trade, “He improved it day by day, experimenting.” Sometime in the late 1960s, the first pat-pat hit the road.

Some of the original metalwork equipment Aktekin used to modify the engine

Except Ismail Aktekin II calls them tak-taks. In fact, everyone in Akşahir calls them that. Had I known this I might have found about this engine's creator sooner - but not by much.

The pat-pat mechanics in Gebeçeler had heard the engine was invented by a retired soldier in Akşahir. I had heard other stories and locations, but this one sounded most specific, so I made the trip.

The two students who had been my makeshift translators both had final exams that week, so I was on my own. I arrived in Akşahir with the word for “central office” written in my notebook. My host had called the Mayor’s office the day before and they said to just come and they’d find a way to help me.

We spent a few hours finding that way: the mid-level management were both bewildered and eager to help as I and went from office to office, floor to floor, asking “English?” or "Tourism?" Eventually someone took my arm and led me to a computer. We managed a little communication through Google translate: one screen for me and one for the crowd of city officials that was trying to solve the mystery of who I was and what I wanted.

It was only one hour and a few rounds of charades later that I learned that pat-pats were actually called tak-taks in Akşahir. Go figure.

My mission was further distilled with each new government office we visited. A little French here, a phone call to someone’s son there, and finally I was invited to take a seat and wait for a very busy man who I now assume to have been an education minister of some kind.

A half dozen more phone calls were made and I found myself being escorted past a schoolyard and introduced to Saim Tuncez, a teacher at the I.Inonu Industrial Vocational High School. He was a soft-spoken and patient man who taught mechanical engineering at the school. I’m not sure if they sent me to him because of this technical background, but he did speak some English – he had learned a bit from a class in Istanbul and practiced while playing bridge on Yahoo.

After more cups of tea with various teachers, we sat in the car of Muja Konuk, the school’s headmaster, as he drove us through the industrial section of Askisir.

This is the workshop of Ismail Aktekin, which opened some fifteen years ago. It is now just one of many such factories, which are usually located in villages.

Ismail Aktekin II and a few mechanics from the surrounding shops told me their business is growing rapidly. "Twenty year ago we were making maybe 10 tak-taks per year," said one man, "Now this region produces almost 300 per year."Ismail Aktekin II's shop in Akşahir

Ismail Aktekin II's shop in AkşahirA pat-pat engine from the mid 1970

The mechanics of three villages all estimated that there are about 250 people working on pat-pats in family shops in the region. The pat-pats are sold throughout Turkey and some villagers had heard they were being exported to Afghanistan, although I could not confirm this.

I visited the Aktekin family and found other innovations from Ismail scattered around the property:

The Aktekin family today
Another Aktekin innovation: a drill powered by a modified pat-pat motor

"He wanted to make an airplane," said his wife, "He was interested in all of those machines - planes, helicopters..." She confirmed he had no formal education and when I asked her how he managed to create such a useful innovation she just pointed to her head. "He was very smart," someone else in the family exclaimed.

The family is wealthy and well-known in the area, but hundreds of mechanics and countless farmers have also benefited from the tinkering of Ismail Aktekin:

Ismail Aktekin II holding a photo of his grandfather and namesake

Pat-pat parts at Ismail Aktekin's shop