KU students generate junkyard finds into mobile art

Jon Dubin had it made.

The Kansas University freshman from Denver sat back in an old, food-stained recliner and relaxed, surrounded by empty taco wrappers and pizza boxes. He wore a stuffed white T-shirt, which gave him an obese appearance. The T-shirt was covered with ketchup stains and French fries. On his head was an empty chicken bucket.

Dubin's chair was pulled by two old bicycles ridden by Jordyn Swingler, Liberty, Mo., freshman, and Christy Cummings, a Wichita sophomore.

"You better still be hungry," Swingler said, moments before she and Cummings reached behind them and pulled back a large, makeshift slingshot made out of elastic bands and a red, plastic fast-food dinner plate. In the plate was a hamburger, which they promptly launched on target at Dubin's face.

The trio's fast-food mobile was one of many bizarre, bicycle-powered vehicle contraptions that were paraded along the sidewalk Wednesday evening in front of KU's Wescoe Hall. Fast-food restaurants weren't the only places they visited to gather parts for their vehicle.

"We went to a lot of junkyards," Dubin said. "That's where we got a lot of this stuff."

Junkyards and outside trash bins were the sources for many of the items used to make the vehicles, which were designed by about 70 students in an art design class. The vehicles were built as part of a wheeled-art project and one of the requirements was that they consist of 95 percent junk.

"I think they outdid themselves," said design professor Jon Keith Swindell.

Trey Randa, a McPherson junior, and Karl Gleason, a freshman from Ramstein, Germany, drove all the way to a junkyard in Franklin County to come up with the wood and other parts for their medieval catapult cart. The cart had four large, round, wooden wheels. Although the catapult worked, it didn't have much launching power. Resin-filled bags were sent flying only a few feet away.

"It was a lot fun," Randa said. "I love getting my hands dirty and getting creative."

Sophomores Joe Wertzberger, Manhattan, and Matt Comstock, Overland Park, drove their version of what a future Hummer might look like and called it the H4. It was made of a dual bicycle frame and covered with foam cord boards. A hatch allowed one of them to stand up and shoot onlookers with a water rifle.

"We spent a lot of time Dumpster diving behind Famous Footwear," Wertzberger said with a laugh.

Corrugated steel was the choice material for juniors Kevin Honan, Independence, Kan., and Sean Smith, Winter Park, Fla., when they put together their bike-powered bird. Steel beams made up the wings.

"It was either going to be a phoenix or a dragon," Honan said. "We wanted to do something with fire."

Although hampered by the wind, Honan was able to use a grill starter to aim a small flame out of the metal mouth of the creature.

Among the other class entries were a bike-pulled shower, a beer can bike, and a bike fastened to an old-fashioned push lawnmower.

The art project was intended to give the students a little comic relief from finals and other end-of-the-semester seriousness, Swindell said.

"It was a challenge to them to build things with discarded elements," he said. "They were enthusiastic about taking that challenge."

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