Dueling Mechanical Bulls, Maker Faire edition

Small, barefooted people prepare to be humiliated. On the right, MB does an ancient dance of Canadian nerd rage. In the center we have Townsend: stunned; Leif showing his ability to slouch and lean on an invisible wall; Dale Dougherty and Philly, eyes asparkle, documenting. In the background are mocking reminders that we once had a space program. (Photo by gluetree on Flickr)

After a frenzied week of work the Bulls and all that was required to make The Show (costumes, signs, t-shirts, scheduling, kicky little neckerchiefs) got made and done, we got the things set up and running.

nyscibulls1 I WORE MY PLAID SHIRT JUST TO RIDE THE BULLS WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE TO TAKE OFF MY COWBOY BOOTS?
Photo by (Andrew Kelly for New York Hall of Science)

They did not work for more than a half an hour at a time, and were getting repaired more than they were running, but it is “Maker Faire”, not “Works every time right out of the box without a hitch Faire”, and we got a nice demonstration on the whole concept of weakest link.

bullsfall The controls are just for show. Colin waves his hand, people fly off. That is how it works. He can do the same trick with your hat or your head. Do not piss off Colin. (Photo by Andrew Kelly for New York Hall of Science)

redandblack Cleaning the shirts you find in the trash is such a hassle, and kind of bougie sell-out. We just leave them encrusted with the hobo vomit and garbage juice, slap a silkscreen on, and call it “Dirty Merch”. You cannot complain about the smell if we warned you.

tshirts Vending table. We should have had a bar.

childrenonly This is the shot of the kid wiping out. Notice the can’t look must look expressions of glee and horror on the faces of the crowd. Young bones heal fast.

nextridelater Bouncy bouncy mat in its flaccid state

jimcollin Jim and Colin remount the welded plate and axle. They did not notice that the top plate was bent down from the stresses of running, leaving another repair for later.

A part would break or shear or bind up- we would fix it, and then the next weakest bit would fail. Pins sheared, steel plates bent, welds broke, universal joints seized- the Bulls would work perfectly for a good twenty minutes, then start laboring and acting wonky. We would run increasingly unthrilling rides until the over-stressed motors would cause the electrical system to burst into flames, then we would shut down, repair. Repeat with new problem. With that said we got some great runs out of the thing, were one of the cooler things at Maker Faire, and made a child cry. Even better than making the kid cry was his mom, who berated him for being such a wuss.

This might look like a shot of Jim welding, but he is just pointing to the spot for Becky Stern to focus her laser beam eyes. Gingers have powers.

bullhead
If you look closely, you can see that this bull mask still has a child’s head in it.

Marybeth MB removes rainwater from the mat with the power of bouncy bouncy.

bulls-panorama I am sure this photo looks a lot better if you biggerize it.

Meanwhile, the Bulls are barely working, at best. The big problem(s) was with the complicated moving parts we made from scratch- steel wheels on a steel plate, rocker arms and drive shafts. For some reason (and this is especially embarrassing to me, as I have devoted a good portion of my life to ripping off and reusing) none of us ever stopped to think “why the fuck are we re-inventing the wheel” (and in this case the metaphor is the literal thing. That is a rare enough phenomenon I am not sure there is a word for it. In this case, we were literally reinventing wheels, with crappier, less-round wheels.), and instead got bogged down in the turd-polishing of a complicated system where corners we did not even know existed (anyone think about case-hardening the wheels, or tempering the plate? Neither did I. I barely even know what that means.) got cut. Slow collapse ensued.


Becky included this photo just because she looks cute. (Photo by John De Cristofaro)

minotaur
The guy in the middle spent days working on his costume, then took three hours of public transportation to get to Maker Faire. He was pissed at first that his was not the only bull-themed thing, but he came around quickly.

colin
This rider does not know what he is getting in to. Colin does, and it amuses him.

falling
Colin’s Powers dismount another rider.

Gaylen had the “well, duh” moment, but not until we were humping the Bull base into the back yard- why didn’t we use a truck hub and axle instead of making a complicated, breaky one from scratch? A finished, rated, road-tested axle, a part that rests on millions of dollars of R&D and thousands of hours of work from trained engineers, a part that is backed by the whole of industrial civilization and the constant threat of lawsuits, a part that is designed to withstand stresses we will never encounter (fat dude on the bull vs two thousand pound truck turning a corner at forty miles an hour) every day, all day, for years and years. That part that does the job so much better than the thing we sunk tons of money and time into costs $50, and I have a pick of different styles. Amusingly, it is a solution we have used numerous times, a solution that never occurred to me.

More photos in Becky’s Flickr set, Colin’s Flickr set, and add yours in the comments below.

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  • By Chris Hackett « We Are The Black Makers! on February 19, 2013 at 3:00 am

    […] That description is so very modest and doesn’t even hint at wild projects like the Dueling Mechanical Bulls. I’m not sure about their unofficial motto “Safety Third”. Having inspected the […]

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