Rat Rods and a Fun Fest at the Kingsport Mini Maker Faire

Lowell Carrolls Rat Rod
Lowell Carrolls Rat Rod
Maker Lowell Carroll stands beside his Rat Rod creation, a tribute to friend Robert Drew Nelms

On Sunday July 13th Kingsport Tennessee a town in the heart of Appalachia was host to the 3rd Annual Kingsport Mini Maker Faire. The Faire was billed as an event where “tech meets hillbilly ingenuity” and made good on its promise with lots of local cultural influence on top of the typical Maker Faire fare. The Kingsport Mini Maker Faire is produced as part of Fun Fest, a local week long summer celebration with events throughout the town including live music, food, and outdoor events. Fun Fest has been going strong since 1981 and they added the Kingsport Mini Maker Faire to the festivities three years ago.

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I was happy to be on hand as an exhibitor showing off some of the educational kits that I make through Harris Educational. I was joined by my nephew Brian Byrd who lives in Morristown Tennesse about an hour away. Brian helped me out with my first ever Maker Faire exhibit at the San Mateo Faire in 2011 and it was great being able to work with him again! He’s great with kids and there were a lot of families and kids at the Kingsport Mini Maker Faire.
I was also there promoting the 2015 Burlington Mini Maker Faire that we produce in Burlington North Carolina. I thought I’d be the only other Maker Faire producer on hand but was happy to run into my friend Matthew Wade, the director of the Martinsville Mini Maker Faire and director of the Fab Lab in Martinsville Virginia. Matthew was there showing folks the educational value of 3D printing. I also met some folks from the Atlanta Maker Faire who were there to promote their upcoming event on October 4th and 5th. The Atlanta Maker Faire was also giving away Tee Shirts for folks to customize. Its amazing to see regional Maker Faire producers working together to support each other’s events and it really drives home the fact that Makers are all about community. It doesn’t matter if that community is local, state, regional, national, or international. Its all about sharing the joys of making with others.

Kingsport Mini Maker Faire Floor
A vew of the Kingsport Civic Auditorium during the 2014 Kingsport Mini Maker Faire, a Fun Fest event.

The Kingsport Mini Maker Faire had a great cross section of makers and projects ranging from the technical to the artistic. Local makers showed off First Robotics projects, plarning from used plastic grocery bags to make recycled crochet, quilting, sewing, and even paper dress making. There were school, university, and local maker clubs and maker spaces represented too including the Knox Makers, a group from Knoxville TN. I saw a few familiar faces from the Asheville Makers from Asheville NC including Sanford Neon showing off his cool Neon Sign and High Voltage projects. There were authors, gamers, cosplay enthusiasts, and even a chemistry demonstration of nonnewtonian fluids.

Knox Makers
Banner of the KnoxMakers from Knoxville Tennessee

My personal favorite from the Kingsport Mini Maker Faire were the Rat Rods. Parked outside the Kingsport Civic Auditorium where the Maker Faire was going on inside, on a hill overlooking the roadway were three amazing vehicles. From a distance they just looked like cool hot rods made out of 1930’s and 1940’s car parts. When viewed up close, especially when given a tour by the Makers themselves more and more details jump out at you. Each car is an artistic story made out of found and recycled items lovingly welded together into a functional and street legal masterpiece.

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The makers were fun to talk to and had an interesting story to tell with their automotive creations. Don Cobb, a supporter of Fun Fest and the Maker Faire gave me a great tour of his car made out of the remains of a vehicle rusting away in a field. Don Newbry’s creation is a Rat Rod made out of a 1930’s manure spreader. He assured us that it has been pressure washed at least once. Don loves robotics and had remote control actuators to activate some cool and surprising features on his Rod including a baby with haunting red LED eyes. The last of the Rat Rods was built by Lowell Carroll as a tribute to a friend who had passed away Robert Drew Nelms. Carroll’s rod was designed to get performance out of a flat four cylinder engine instead of a V6 or V8 as one might expect in such a vehicle. Every square inch of these vehicles yielded a new surprise each time I looked at them.

More photos of the Rat Rods and the rest of the Kingsport Mini Maker Faire can be found in this photo album. If you want to find the Mini Maker Faire nearest you, check out the Maker Faire website.

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Ben Harris is the creator of Reinventing Science Kits, Maker Made STEM Kits for schools and hobbyists. Through Harris Educational Ben has started the Alamance Makers Guild a maker community in Burlington North Carolina and with their help he produces the Burlington Mini Maker Faire in its fourth year in 2015. Follow Ben at the link below for daily STEM and Maker articles, videos, and links.

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