The past few weeks we've been playing a lot with my partner’s 4x4 rock crawling machine. Besides traveling around the desert to find big crazy boulders to crawl over with it, we go to a few off-road events each winter. Alec’s cars are…. well…… totally outside of the box.
If you asked me to describe them, Dr. Seuss’ inventions come to mind. Some might say that Alec is like a combination of Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future and Hayao Miyazaki’s Kamaji from Spirited Away . (BTW, one of my fav directors. If you haven't seen any of his films, you just have to.)
Although he doesn’t describe himself as an artist, a huge amount of creativity and ingenuity go into everything that he does. He has a passion for building and inventing, and has built a multitude of things over the years, from tank vehicles to airplanes. Part of his satisfaction comes from operating them at their full potential, but the creative process is what he lives for.
Alec Yeager - Inventor
Me: What is your favorite color and why?
Alec: Fuchsia green. I think Chrysler called it Sassy Grass Green.
Me: Why is that your favorite color?
Alec: I don't know, I’ve always liked that color.
Me: What is your art?
Alec: My art is using metal. I take an idea and create it out of metal. It’s always mechanical.
Me: What’s your process?
Alec: My process started back a long time ago. Growing up on the farm, we built or rebuilt most of our own equipment. I always liked custom harvesting because the machines that we harvested with were very complex, with a lot of systems going on at once. I enjoyed seeing the interaction of a multitude of systems that do completely different things, all interacting together. So I would always take it to the next level, because there was always room for improvement. It was about improving, making it more functional, or to make a machine do more things than it was designed for.
Me: You’ve made a leap from just building something that has already been designed or conceptualized. You come up with ideas that nobody has ever thought of before and then create them, and make them work flawlessly. What’s different from what everybody else has done and what you do?
Alec: That probably came from growing up very isolated on a farm. My parents didn’t’ keep me busy 24-7 with things like Little League and all these other things that people think kids have to do. I had lots of time to do my own creating in my own brain. When I saw mechanical devices I always thought of other purposes or ways to incorporate things in machines that they weren’t necessarily designed to do. I still do that when I see a piece of equipment; I think of how I could make it do what I want it to versus what it might have been originally intended for. It's always been about thinking outside the box.
I learned something important very early on, which was to look at something from a totally flipped perspective. Turn it over 180 degrees. So if it was designed to go a certain way, I’d turn it around in my head and think it through completely backwards. You flip it and look at it working in reverse and also a mirror image. I found that very useful in creating new ideas because then you could eliminate the trap of going down only one path and being limited.
Me: What is your favorite part about your creations?
Alec: One of my favorite parts is the creative process, it doesn't cost anything to think up 100 different vehicles. Let's say you have 100 ideas then you start narrowing them down and then narrowing them down. That's the fun part - you weasel and weasel it down to about the 10 best ideas that you can think of. And then comes the work, because then you have to start making decisions about which one is the very best. Well, there's a lot of ways to skin a cat. There are multiple ways of approaching the same problem. There's not one best way, but a decision needs to be made. Then it's time to start spending money on iron and motors tires and all this. Once you make that decision, it’s pretty rewarding because then your brain kinda relaxes and you go, “Okay, this is how we're going to do it.” And then you spend a big ol’ pile of money and then become stressed again. The last car I made, I drew it out and did lots of measuring and so I was pretty confident that everything would fit.
Me: Do you design your machines on a computer first?
Alec: I'm not a computer guy or a digital guy. I'm an analytical guy, but I need to grab a hunk of iron and start going at it to see how it will fit together. I do sketch things out, just not in detail, I sketch a general concept. Then I get my hands on it and build in the sub-structures after the main items are there.
So that's pretty stressful because you’ve got to make the decision eventually to poop or get off the pot, you’ve got to put things in the right place. And once they’re in you have to live with it. The more cars I build I get better at knowing the direction I'm going as I build. I want to avoid the, “Oh, crap that shouldn't have gone there now I can't work on the piece that's behind it”. A lot of engineers don't worry about that because they don't fix their own stuff, they just build it. Then when other people like me are trying to repair it, we go, “A stupid engineer put that there.” I have to fix my own stuff so I’ve learned to pay attention.
Me: What advice would you give to aspiring creators?
Alec: Don't quit because it doesn't work the first time. It’s like the story about the best baseball player of all time. Babe Ruth had hit the most homeruns. And come to find out later, he also had the record for the most strike outs. But then Hank Aaron comes along and beat his homerun record. Well, turns out he also beat the record of striking out the most. So me, I was just too stubborn to quit. I have a whole yard of scrap up home from things that didn’t work. Instead of going to engineering college, I paid my tuition in scrap metal. It's not always knowing the ways that something will work. I know a lot of ways that don't work. A lot of other inventors do that too. There's precious few ideas that work really well. The more ways you know that won't work, the more likely you are to come up with something that does.
If you want to see roXdawg (his latest build) in action or hear about his other machines or projects, I’ve posted lots of video on our YouTube channel. Most people looking for 4x4 videos want to see rollovers and horsepower, and we don't quite fit that niche. But we have several thousand subscribers who seem to be interested in watching his unusual cars, and watching him describe his building process on this and other projects. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram.
Artist, homesteader, teacher and adventurer. Turning over every literal and figurative rock that I can find, living curiously and creatively outside of the conventions of the common world.
facebook: Karrie Steely Fine Art and Creative Services
Youtube: Homesteading and High Adventure