Contraptor, metalworker, global activist, steampunk... specializing in pedal-power.

Using steel, wheels, and sewing, I rend Victorian æsthetics into a Mad-Max setting with a rigorous use of found and recycled materials.

Art By The Ton

The summer festival season is upon us and I have rejoined Dan das Mann and Karen Cusolito as a fabricator and heavy equipment operator. My work as an artist's assistant seems to be unbounded in size; Art by the Ton makes colossi or monumental sculpture. The photo above shows me at work on Manu, a scrap and fire art sculpture. Working with art this size requires a safety-minded, industrial artist who is quick with his mind and his feet. Our shop has 10 of these sculptures and we install them at several festivals a season. Behind the exploding fire art scrap giant is a lot of patient crane rigging and semi-trailer loading.

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Giant Globes

Since 2006 I have worked for Giant Globes, Inc. as a metalworker/polisher working on large (3'-10' diameter) aluminum globes. This is an exacting task, as a perfect sphere is hard to make but even the untrained eye can detect a lopsided one!

Making these globes has pushed me to produce metalwork that justifies its price. The uniformity of an unpainted, raw aluminum globe has challenged my precision more than my usual style of rugged, post-apocalyptic work.


Allpower Labs

I'm excited to say that I've begun to fabricate for Allpower Labs, makers of the only commercially available complete gasifier kit. Joining the crew was a meeting of minds; I've always been a "power hacker" of sorts and this is a chance to work with some folks at the forefront of this technology. Allpower is located in The Shipyard, an Oakland shipping-container based art & energy space.

A gasifier is old technology. Back before Standard Oil and BP and all the old cronies decided to get us hooked on oil, newly emerging engine technology was designed to run on agricultural byproducts. We were a farming country and it just made sense. The diesel engine was designed to run on vegetable oils and the gasoline engine could run on wood gas, propane, or the product of a gasifier.

Basically you stuff anything that burns (such as available byproducts like coffee grounds or walnut shells) into a bucket and burn it at a high temperature in an oxygen starved environment. Gases are produced which you run through some filters then guff into the carb of an engine or generator.

To explain it extremely simply, it's a fire in a bucket. The fire is starved of oxygen. Complex hydrocarbons are broken down into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The gas passes through a few filters and is guffed into your engine's carb. Pretty straightforward. The fidgeting is just to get it to burn clean, which it can do much better than a gasoline engine.

So why doesn't everyone do this? Well, they did, back in the day. It popped up again in Germany during the war when they couldn't get any petroleum. You see pictures of gasifiers on the back of buses in China. It takes some fidgeting to get it right, which means it's not push-button idiot-proof, which is pretty much the standard for product design these days. But can you run your car on pecan shells, wood chips, agricultural waste, or construction debris? Absolutely. With clean emissions. And the byproduct is an excellent soil conditioner!

Most of Allpower's customers are researchers, bunker people, and alternative energy enthusiasts. Anybody with a source of biomass such as horse manure or corn husks can buy one of these units and run a generator off of it pretty easily for free power. The company's business is booming, we have orders out the wazoo and are making them as quick as we can. The shop produces about five to seven a week.

Next year we'll be competing in an alternative fuels race for the Automotive X-prize.

Keep an eye on my Youtube channel for videos about how gasification works.


Corinbank 2009

With the Pedal-powered Bumper Cars up and running from last year, I was free to express myself more creatively at this year's Corinbank festival. The festival had acquired a burn permit and weather conditions looked like they would allow for some fire art.

I wanted to express aspects of Australian culture in my work. I acquired various pieces of metal that are important to Australians, such as a bowls mower, a lawnmower leaf catcher, a "barbie", a tea kettle, and various farm equipment. Only the Hills Hoist clothesline inspires more pride in the Australian heart than a barbie and a lawnmower. I added to this the legend of the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly and created NED 3000, a robot chopper outlaw burn barrel:


His head is surrounded by a barbed-wire crown of thorns.

Ned carries a removable zombie-killin' shotgun with underslung brain corer:

The second sculpture was "Evil Tick-tock," a portly wood-devouring robot comprised of cultivator blades, a barbeque, and a tea kettle:

His hand was beaten on the forge out of an old pitchfork. When you place a log in his hand and pull down on the lawnmower handle, his mouth opens and he dumps the log into his flaming, greedy jaw.

These pieces will appear at the in2CHANGE gallery show at the Belconnen Bus Interchange in the Australian Capital Territory April 20-May 8

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Pedal-powered Crane

This pedal-powered crane was built for Redmoon's Summer 2006 spectacle Twilight Orchard. A simple rule for a crane is that the weight on the end times the ratio of the boom to the counterweight's length equals the weight of the counterweight. The original design called for an 800 lb. counterweight which would support 50 lbs at the end of a 16 foot boom. Consequently this vehicle was extremely overbuilt, with ATV wheels, a differential, and a gear ratio that would allow a single person to move that kind of weight.

I had to fabricate my own axle stub brackets.

The vehicle was dressed by other designers and audio techs, and Laura Annis built the boom. The crane was equipped with a speaker on the end for a private party and then used to hang a disco ball for Twilight Orchard- in typical Redmoon style this allows the techs to be seen by the audience and perform their job with whimsical gadgetry. Here's a picture of it loading a mouse into a giant mouse wheel during Looptopia 2007:

This project represents a particular combination of form and function that I always strive for and am quite proud of in this creation.

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American Dream Burn Barrel series


Before the Burning Man 2008 bicycle project began, I worked in the metal shop. These are some of the burn barrels I produced to go with the event's "American Dream" theme.

The Rocket

Something has gone horribly awry during this launch. Flames are spewing from the cockpit and the hatch. Behind the astronaut is a scoop that surrounds him in flame. The belly of the rocket (shown above) features a tribute to one of america's fallen heroes.

Rocketship burn barrel

I'm burning!

"Abraham Pimpin'" $1 bill

"Abraham Pimpin" burn barrel

This barrel depicts a $1 bill with Abraham lincoln as a pimp. The seals on the bill say "worship me" and "R.I.P. The American Dollar 1945-2008".

The Almighty Dollar 1945-2008

"Abraham Pimpin" burn barrel

"Abraham Pimpin" burn barrel

"Abraham Pimpin" burn barrel

You can see others, including 'Dale Woulda stopped 9-11' and 'Pizza, Tacos, and Chinese: Now That's American Food!' at my my Flickr photostream.

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Loves Me, Loves Me Not

Redmoon Theater's 2005 summer spectacle was exemplary of their style: Sweeping stage, daring location, involved in the neighborhood, and hauntingly magical. It set out to be a sort of post-apocalyptic comedy, set in a flooded town, about materialism. The show opened on September 15, and three weeks before opening night Hurricane Katrina forced it to undergo a considerable re-write. You can read a New York Times article about the show's transformation.

Originally I designed a series of bicycle-cars representing various forms of modern-day consumerist vice, such as a grill-mobile with endless attachments and implements. As the location was chosen, we began to come to terms with the challenges of putting on a theatrical production over water. Each character needs a boat for every movement, each dropped tool or prop is gone forever, and the wind can considerably affect the timing of the show.

We set up an above-ground pool in our shop, for testing. My vehicles became boats, and with the set crew I created a floating house and gas station, as well as a mobile floating band platform. The house transformed with a fold-down kitchen floor, a grill in the chimney, and a nursery that spun upside-down to appear as part of the roof.

The two boats I built for this show were The Quadropus and a pedal-powered jet ski. During the show itself, as usual, I worked on the pryo crew executing a floating net-of-candles effect.

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Pedal-powered Jet Ski

This pedal-powered jet ski was made for Loves Me, Loves Me Not. I stripped the interior of all engine components and sealed up the resulting holes. Then I built the paddle-wheel mechanism (the bike frame was left whole to make it clear that it was made from salvaged goods, the play taking place in a kind of post-apocalyptic world), added a miniature railing around the deck to make it look like a ship, and put two deck chairs in place of the original seat. The barrels were added because a jet ski is a vehicle on which the rider expects to get wet (it rolls), and the actors couldn't have contact with the highly bacterial Jackson Park lagoon.

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This boat was made for Loves Me, Loves Me Not. The Quadropus' shape was created by running four pipes through an English wheel twice at 90 degree angles. The recliner's lever was the throttle, and a lamp was moved to steer the boat. The TV was lit from inside so that it glowed on the performer's face.

The boat is pictured in its original decoration; when the show was changed to a tragedy it was treated with burlap and vines to appear more disheveled.

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Corinbank 2008

The organizers of The Corinbank Festival wanted their first festival to impact the participants with its level of participatory, surreal, and unique attractions. They hired a circus school, marching band teachers, and the bizarre (but genius) clowns Wacko and Blotto to create an atmosphere where attendees were also welcomed to bring and set up "Creative Campsites" of their own.

The festival was located in a beautiful valley in the Brindabellas, swimming with cockatoos and kangaroos. I was billed in the promotional material as an "Artist In Residence". For the two months prior to the event I designed and built a pedal-powered attraction. Called the "Death Derby Arena", it was an area where people could try out a variety of wacky bikes I'd built, along with a pedal-powered bumper car rink. The bikes only appeared dangerous; in fact, there were no injuries all weekend.

This bike had a surfboard on the front, so one person could pedal and the other could surf on land!

I made sure to provide bikes- such as this pixie bike with bull bars- for the smaller children, although it didn't stop the grownups from giving them a try.

This smaller, safer version of my pennyfakething let the less-daring give it a try.

This chopper with a spring in the middle was not as hard to ride as it looks!

The pedal-powered bumper cars were a huge hit. You can see more about them here.

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Pedal-Powered Bumper Cars

My original plan for the Corinbank festival's pedal-powered entertainment was to whip up as many wacky bikes as I could and we'd have a sort of rodeo. However, once two of these bumper bikes were completed, they were just too much fun. It was clear I needed to drop my plans and create a pedal-powered bumper car arena.

The casters in the back cause the bike to spin out when it's hit. The arena size can be adjusted to prevent the sort of speeds that cause injury. These bikes use 100% recycled material, and don't need the electric floor like the carnival version!

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Iris's Neo-Victorio-Egyptian fashion

My good friend Iris Bainum-Houle went to Egypt to study fashion for her senior show. She produced a striking series that referenced the Victorian obsession with Egypt. I fabricated the understructures, much like bustles, for three of her pieces:

The black staff had a steel understructure, as well as the large sleeves of the black piece. The tan outfit had a long, sarcophagus-like bustle. The pieces had casters to help them roll silently across the floor.

Iris' work for this show won the Richard M. Driehaus award for fashion excellence, as did Robyn Coffey's work the year after.

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Long Chainey

I had an odd urge to build an underslung chopper, one where the bike's frame hung from the fork. Consequently this bike was quite overbuilt. I ended up having to fabricate my own head tube, bottom bracket, and rear axle. Then I finished it in a "Mad Max" style for that post-apocalyptic feel. The large rear wheel acts as a flywheel, allowing me to reach high speeds and tow cargo with this bicycle.

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Robyn's Post-Apocalyptic Alice In Wonderland

A Chicago School of the Art Institute senior named Robyn Coffey hired me to weld accents for a costume in her "Post-Apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland" series for her senior show. I built the shoulderpieces for the White Rabbit's costume:

Robyn's work for this show won the Richard M. Driehaus award for fashion excellence, as did Iris Bainum-Houle's work the year before.

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Winifred the Pennyfakething

Subsequent to my interest in steampunk I wished to get around on an Ordinary bicycle, but had no large wheel on hand. So I flipped up the frame of a cruiser bike and invented the "pennyfakething", a DIY punk twist on a Victorian classic.

After my article on the bike in Steampunk Magazine #2, other people started making them, and so I've set up

Here's a video of the mount:

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From Nothing

"From Nothing" was Redmoon Theater's Winter 2005 spectacle. We created a "dreamscape, a place of awe and wonder, of play" out of the converted printing warehouse and built an interactive environment for participants to discover.

Redmoon's designers might be asked to do almost anything. Some of the things I was asked to do for this show were to build a life-size luon jet flying through the space, weld a giant gazebo-like bed, rig a battery mount onto a rolling four-poster bed, and dress a floating jazz-band platform like a cloud.

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In 2003 I met Dr. Osei Darkwa of Patriensa, Ghana; he and I discussed cargo bike designs. He invited me to spend 6 months there starting up a school for welding, bike mechanics, and cargo bike design. The center imports donated bikes from the first world (both taking them out of the wastestream and conserving the energy of their manufacture) and modifies them for bush cargo use. As a hobby I fundraise to send bicycles and volunteers to the center.

For more information:

NPR's Worldview Global Activism piece on the project

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Fire Bike With Me

Inspired by other mobile grills I'd seen, I decided to make a grillbike. However, it was important to me that this bike be modular, so it could be used to haul cargo as well as any attachment one could come up with.

A grillbike can make a summer. Each "trip to the park" turns into "grilling in the park". It's also good for moving open-ended loads:

Then Mayor Daley came up with his "music everywhere" program, which hired mobile musicians to perform all around downtown and the lakefront. I was hired by Mark Messing (Mucca Pazza) to build a drumkit attachment for the bike. This allowed a drummer to join more easily mobilized instruments in a mobile band.

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