The MakeShift Challenge: Mounting a “Super Cow” on a Tower Crane

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The MakeShift Challenge: Mounting a “Super Cow” on a Tower Crane

[This “MakeShift Challenge” column originally appeared in Make: Volume 03, 2005.]

The Scenario

A commercial real estate mogul wants to put a life-size sculpture of a cow, made to look like Superman, atop a tower crane at his latest development. A local artist fabricated the bovine. However, the engineers she has contracted to design a mounting solution are scared to touch the problem for under $50,000. Here’s why: the cow needs to stand proud on a 40-story tower crane throughout summer and fall in a city that is at high risk for hurricanes. You boast that you could do it for $20.

The Challenge

Create a makeshift solution to securely mount Super Cow on top of the tower crane (no details about where “on top” were given). The cow is a shell structure made of 1/2″ fiberglass and weighs 100 lbs. Tools and materials at your disposal include materials that can be reasonably extracted from the environment and items on the supply list. Once you deliver your solution, the site crew will get everything where you want it using another crane.

Supply List

(1) life-size fiberglass Super Cow
(1) roll of chicken wire
(2) rolls of duct tape
(6) 1-liter bottles of cola
$20 budget
Surplus of cardboard boxes and packing peanuts
Variety of tools (drills, saws, etc)
Simple welding and woodworking equipment

MakeShift 03: Analysis, Commentary, and Winners
by William Lidwell
November 01, 2005

In many respects, this was the most difficult MakeShift to date. No prior art to consider. No books to read. No people who had done it before to consult — well, there is one person. In the category “Truth is often stranger than fiction,” I was actually charged with accomplishing the MakeShift 03 challenge in real life a few years ago. To be fair, my supplies and budget were not quite as limited as the MakeShift supply list, but the essence of the problem was the same: real estate mogul, heroic fiberglass cow, sky crane, hurricane season, and excess bravado. I am happy to report that the installation survived several severe thunderstorms and one tropical storm — all sleepless nights for me — before it was finally brought down and auctioned off for charity.

My nights were sleepless because as with most MakeShift-type problems, the variables affecting the solution were complex and fuzzy in nature. The best one can do with such problems is strive to understand them as much as possible and then employ strategies like redundancy, factors of safety, and weak links in your design to offset the risks of all the things you don’t know. In many respects, the process is as much art as a science. Additionally, respecting the aesthetics of the cow sculpture was also a requirement. A number of submissions pointed out that a person at ground level wouldn’t be able to see a cow mounted on a 40-story crane. I can tell you from personal experience that a life-size cow dressed like Superman on a sky crane brings out all manner of rooftop gawkers and tourists with telephoto lenses. So the impact of the proposed solution on the appearance of the cow mattered in reality and in my evaluation.

Thanks to the Make: readers who dared to take on the makeshift madness of this challenge and keep Super Cow’s hooves firmly planted on the crane. Hopefully, you will never hear, “It’s a bird… it’s a plane…” the same way again.


Winners received Make: T-shirts to celebrate and show off their unique brand of genius and the ultimate MakeShift Master tool—the SWISSMEMORY USB Victorinox 512MB. Honorable mentions got fame and recognition for their excellent contributions. In exchange, we at Make: got to enjoy such clever responses. Now, go forth and solve the world’s problems!

The winners of the MakeShift 03 challenge are:

MakeShift Master – Most Plausible: Chris Rovers

MakeShift Master – Most Creative: Dan Rubenfield

“Rebar of Seville” — Honorable Mention: Andy Seubert

“Chikofsky & Cross”– Honorable Mention: Vinnie Forgione

“Factor of Safety” — Honorable Mention: Bobby Joe Snyder

Congratulations to the MakeShift Masters and the Honorable Mentions (applause! accolades! excessive bowing!). Everyone did a great job of taking on this difficult problem and communicating their solutions in a fun and effective manner. I encourage all readers to study these winning entries and share this link with your friends. And speaking on behalf of my fellow Gulf Coasters, may your hurricane season be short. Until the next MakeShift challenge, happy making!

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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