Acavallo 2012
Budget and Build

The carousel was built in two phases - 2007 and 2012. The original build was in Brooklyn, and the second in Tonasket Washington. The countless hours! The piece has evolved considerably from the original design - it's a much tighter piece. It sometimes takes a couple tries to get it right.

The first build was frantic, to say the least. And expensive! Burning Man helped to fund the project - they covered the cost of the materials, and we threw a bunch of amazing parties to raise more money, and Hyde Power covered the rest. It was a mad 8 weeks, working night and day, designing and building at the same time. So much work, so much metal, so many bills.

The second build was much more controlled, more relaxed, it had a budget and a schedule that made sense. The design had been plenty ironed out by the time we started, so the build was deliberate and not full of surprises. It was great. The fundamental questions had been answered (what where) and what needed to be design-built was completely manageable.

We built it with a small crew - Barley and me all summer, with help at different times from Andy Jones, Danny Watson, Will Ianson and Derby Luongo - and some others here and there. Nobody got paid, but we sure made something happen.

The piece has been built by a combination of paid and volunteer labor, most of it volunteer, or barely paid. It's been a labor of love, skinned knuckles, burnt fingers and all.

The build, 2012:

The build really started with a series of fundraising parties in Brooklyn, NY, which we threw over the course of the winter/spring. Thank you Shawn Patrick and ACME for hosting the parties! They were, as always, completely ridiculous and amazing.

Once we had some money saved up, the first step was to put all the parts from the old piece in a container and ship them out to Washington. The stuff was stored up in the Catskills, at Shawn's barn in Bovina NY. If you ever get a chance, go to the peekamoose restaurant, the food, the wine list,and the decor are incredible. There are a couple horses there, too.

We organized a work party, a bunch of people showed up and the Acavallo crew spent the weekend cleaning up the property, and digging out all rusty metal. Most of it from under a collapsed barn. And amazingly enough, everything was in good shape, and all the pieces were there, and we got it all into the container, even the 500# lumps. It was such a joy to bust that metal loose, to get it out of the eddy and back on the road!

collapsed barn, buried goodies

Little Josephine wakes up a sleeping, overgrown horse

buried front wheel pivot - that's a very expensive bearing rusting away

catwalk frames, cut up after all points west, buried in the weeds

buried tires, at least they were mostly out of the sun

buried decking. All that oak flooring, waiting...

gotta clean this up!! What a mess. We filled a 40yd dumpster with the trash

trailer full of good parts: axles, horse rotate mechanisms, airbags... and heavy.

all cleaned up!! That was an epic Saturday, thank you Acavallo!!

and the rusty stuff goes away to Tonasket in a big orange box.

I was too busy trying to figure out what was what to take any pictures of the loading! It's a shame.

About this time, we finally got our Kickstarter campaign going, which was SUCCESFUL! You can read some blog -style entries about the build there, and see some videos from the build. THANK YOU EVERYBODY! That funding made the completion of the project possible. Thank you thank you.

While we were waiting for the container to arrive in Tonasket, we went and retrieved the motor and transmission, which was from a donor pickup truck. This was Monica's old garbage hauler - she did cleanouts in Seattle with it for years, until the frame cracked. The motor in it was rebuilt by a guy named Lee Koontz, one of my childhood heroes from Duvall Washington who always had the coolest cars. LIke a 4 wheel drive 57 chevy with duals all the way around. Unbeliveable. His 4wd suburban framed camaro is still the only car I've ever ridden in that lifted the front wheels off the ground. The pickup's little chevy 250 ain't never gonna lift any wheels, but it should push around a lot of people at walking speed. That's all we want! And the price? Free. Can't beat that!

Big dodge tows little Chevy ... aww

Barley starting the disassembly ... by removing the old handbag, which held the battery! Ha ha

ain't she beautiful

Once the container arrived in Tonasket, we unloaded the stuff.

Big Forky is ready, and that's Salem Straub helping out - thank you!

a lot easier to unload than real appaloosas, these guys don't kick so much, just fall over and cut you

a tidy pile

Once that was done, we started cutting up the original frames and trusses. The redesign made use of every possible original truss and tube, and many design hours were spent in maximizing the use of the original materials. A lot of the final dimensions of the piece are a direct result of original frame sizes - the deck width, where the deckframes fold, etc. It's all in there, those original decisions made in June of '07. It was epic, moving things around in CAD to finally find the best solution, balancing aesthetic vs. function vs. already built. But it was all done prior to the build, so we were able to start right off just hacking up frames.

Andy Jones was here for that, and sawed up most of the frames. It was an epic bunch of sawzalling, and Andy was the best at making the blades last. He's got that jeweler's touch.

Andy Jones and the pile of frames he sawzalled... thank you!

nice rust

While that was going on, we sourced the driveline parts, and finished the design on the gooseneck trailer frame, which is the core of the piece. We bought new steel for the trailer frame - $2500 of it - plus another equal amount in trailer axles wheels and hardware, and that, plus another grand in junkyard parts, lights and stuff, was our build budget. And it was almost enough, and then our good friend Cowboy ordered up a burnbarrel horse to support the project, and we made that right away, turning steel plate into dollars to build art. It's a joyous circle when it works.

Turns out a Dodge 1500 axle is the widest, and it just fits. $400 at the u-pull.

meanwhile, this happens

still holding on to the trusses in the back, these were deleted later... but the trailer looks pretty designed. There are so many design hours in this piece! Every bit has been drawn, redrawn, fussed over, argued about, dreamt of and thought about from every angle, every interaction and consequence hemmed and hawed over...

sometimes it's nice to not use CAD, inventing the horse base the ol' fashioned way

and tada, a new horse is born!

prettty, and


Then, parts and materials started showing up in the mail, and with the drawing double checked, we started building the trailer. Barley did 99% of the fabrication on the trailer - it was a lot of careful work. Tubes that intersect tubes, parallel lines, perpendicular lines, all just so. Square tubes meet round tubes and it all flows from front to back, perfectly aligned and thoroughly welded.

$2500 of steel.

shapin it

just right!


the master at work... that was a full Mason jar of coffee earlier

scratchin a perpendicular line

The design/build methods are the same as in the orginal, the whole piece resolves to tubes cut to length, welded together, welded to cnc cut plates to hold everything together. With the CAD, it's possible to resolve almost any structural or mechanical system into a series of tubes and brackets, into a simple series of steps (cut this many tubes to this length with this angle on each end, weld them to these dimensions, tack these plates on). We used our CNC plasma cutter to generate all the brackets, a carbide-blade metal saw to cut the tubes, a bandsaw and grinder to notch and angle them, and a MIG welder to stick them all together.

Our next builder volunteer was Daniel, who brought along his nephew, Jared, who was a riot. He's got an extra chromosome which makes him really fun. He likes to yell, but so do I! He wasn't such a fan of the grinding, which Daniel did a LOT of, but he loved Flap's mobility cart. Zoom zoom. Meanwhile, the trailer frame was taking shape, piece by perfect piece. A sentence of tubes, each just so, perpendicular parallel and all angled in together at one end.

We started working nights, too, as it was really starting to get hot during the day. The race was on.

clamp clamp weld

Danny is incredulous

and excited! that's the trailer frame getting welded up

OK, that's the back, now to the front...

which is over here, on the table with a driveaxle assembly cradled in its lovin arms

the drive axle is on airbags... too cool

hey now, that's looking like a trailer frame! Nothing like welding

at midnight.

Jared and I ham it up

while Danny endlessly grinds brackets.

I was really struggling with the final design - particularly, the interaction of the deck frames, and the exterior trusses, and how it all lined up. There were a lot of conflicts, and they wouldn't resolve. I had to dig back, and figure out what the problem really was - which was that I was obsessed with reusing the original welded clips, which aligned the frames to the trusses, because it was so much work to remove them - they were welded on good. Until, finally, I just set Daniel on it, and in a couple days, he had removed every clip from the trusses. It was an unbelievable sparkstorm of grinding, spraying metal dust and grit everywhere. But because he did that, the design logjam was completely busted loose and everything fell into place - the deckrframes shifted, the horses lined up with the openings, the frames lined up with the masts lined up with wheels and steps and boy that was a relief. Thank you Danny!

Jared is bored with grinding...

so it's back out to the mobility machine, with special wagon trailer! He drove this for hours and hours...

meanwhile, I was constantly plasma cuttin up the brackets, two for every connection.

the trailer frame starts getting parts attached

what is this picture missing?

Two lovely ladies and a nice dog! Aurora and Heather stop by for a visit.

and then... paint.

Paint is so horrible - it is toxic, and a pain to get right, but it does keep the corrosion at bay. And we wanted this trailer to last a while... it'll be seeing some road miles! It's such a drag though: unbolt everything, clean it all, spray the primer, sand it a little, find all the missed spots, do it again, and then the paint, and it's just runs and thin spots and crawling around spraying the underside of things while every bug in town kamikazes in for a final resting place... good times? not really. But Danny and I got through it. He wanted to try painting so bad. It looks so easy and fun - just spray away. But no... maintain an even coating: sweep your arm-shoulder-wrist linkage just so to keep that gun the right distance away from the piece, follow with perfect overlap through 3D space, maintain perpendicular and watch the shine and don't pause on the release or stumble or move suddenly or look away or have a momentary lapse in consciousness while you think about trusses or whatever... yeah right. Anyway. It got done. Drips and all.

sprayin the green, Danny lays it on a little thick

all painted up and cookin in the sun.

I used an oil-based enamel from the hardware store - rust stop - it's not that great. It scratches super easy. I wish I'd gone with the orange primer, so the scratches would look cooler. The gray is kind of boring. Anyway...

Now we can get back to bolting stuff together. In goes the horse drives, the drive axle, the motor and transmission, and that's the start of the deck platforming and steering behind Barley.

who is welding and grinding to get driveshaft clearance. Its 105 degrees too...

Bob Raimer shortens up the driveshaft for us

And once that was all done, without a break, we started in on the trusses and the frames. The bow was the trickiest - getting all those angled intersections just right. I used the 3D cad model to print out full scale paper drawings, which we taped to the tubes, traced, and cut. It worked great. All that agonizing over the design, finding the simplest build/look good combination, was worth it.

oh yes, it's precision

and clean

so it all lines up. First, tacked up...

and then welded

the Grob bandsaw is amazing

so many angled cuts

and they all line up.

and we navigate through the design shoals!

No matter how much you draw, there are always little easter eggs in the design. For instance, the wheels couldn't be removed - there was no clearance to be able to come on and off the hubs with the bottom chord in the way.

from 2007 - with Rachael Champion.

The strange little dogleg in the trusses by her right hand was a design decision from the earliest days, and it bugged me always. It made no sense, it was this weird interruption along the bottom of the trusses.

Until Barley and I fitted up the trusses for the first time and then it all made sense. It was just enough room to get the back tire off, so we extended the dogleg up past the front axle. Problem solved. So much of this project was like that - it just flowed along. Hit a bump, look at the parts, realize a solution. Not that doing all that notching and welding at 2 AM was fun, it was just gross, dirty, and painful. But it wasn't hard. Getting up again at six was.

My days started to blur - I would get up, get Josephine fed and dressed and then to one Grandmother or another, rush back to the shop, work all day in the heat, go home for dinner and to read some stories to Josephine, and then come back to the shop for another round, finally bonk, go home and sleep for a few hours, repeat. My dreams were of tubes welded to tubes, shapes shifting around, and the days were tubes welded to tubes. Obsession, definitely.

And about this time, Will Ianson showed up to help out for the rest of the summer, down from Victoria BC. He was a big help, and we gave him all kinds of horrible jobs, like cutting and fitting the expanded metal in the bow. It's sharp, poky, nasty stuff. And he did a great job.

cuttin it.

checkin it out. Strong!

Um, yeah. We were getting pretty loopy.

shapin up

Will taps some holes in the frame for a removable panel to access the crane bearing bolts.

imaginary test drive

Meanwhile, Barley and I keep adding frames, parts, and pieces. It was pretty exciting to see it fill out, become 3D, become something. A ship.

deck frames with hinges and struts

double-hinged step that works when sides are up, or down

and of course, hinging sides! Horse holes are framed in! It's epic

Meanwhile, inside, the masts are on the welding table at last

Super cool telescoping mast bases.

Justina tries out the steering. The white car waits for this project to be done...

the steering is via wire rope.

Benie checks it out.

Oh, and the medallion in the back is all class.

This was cut from the original firetank box, which was a terrible idea (so heavy! wrong) and of course when I loaded it in the plasma cutter, I did it upside down, so I cut the first circle wrong, had to flip it over and cut it again, and then get Will to weld back up and grind the bad cut. It's all wrong. But it looks great!

And, finally, the catwalk is up!

lots of wood left to put down...

I was the only one to fall through the holes in the deck - was pretty exciting. I turned, stepped into nothing, saw what was happening, and caught myself midair in a pushup between frames, no problem - and then there was shadow, and I thought it was Will falling off the ladder onto me, I braced, and when it turned out to only be the ladder, which crashed off my back light as a feather, I was so relieved I forgot to feel any pain.

Masts extended, catwalk up to max height.

Will contemplates how he's going to get down, now that he's climbed up there

Meanwhile, the horses all get mounted to their new bases

it's carnage. And so hot, so unbelievably hot, day after day.

Meanwhile, we also had a ton of work to do to get ready to leave for Burning Man. Barley had to make a hitch for the box truck, for example, which was a bit of a nightmare! To say the least. And put a flatbed on the Dodge, which was horribly grindy-torchy job. I didn't take many pictures, I was just too tired to find the time between tasks. We kept at it, day after day, and soon we were putting up the horses and it was really starting to look like the carousel.

using the iphone to find angles - it works GREAT

I'm pretty sure this jack-on-jack action is illegal in Okanogan county.

Oops, another clearance problem - Will gets to replace all the big nuts with low profile and grind off the stubs.

and horses hit the deck! Big boxy provides some shade...

Will does some adjusting

it gets dark, we're still at it

The chevy gets moved, again... pants fallin off, again.

zoom zoom. Big Forky to the rescue

Barley and will fork in a horse, I'm torching the crankarms for clearance...


and later that night, we finally got em all in place and going up and down. Hallelujah!

Marina and Michelle visit!

I love this girl! Marina Belle tries out the front horse

And meanwhile, Dirby and Will's water disposal bike. It worked enough to say it worked!

Dan Glass and Will figure something out

Dan showed up to get the fire system together, and it was quite the battle. He was only here for a few days, and there was a lot to do and figure out. He, Will, and Barley figured out some cool whistles though, and got all the horrible pipe fittings and elbows all sorted, the pipes and tubes and tanks. The best part of collaboration is saying - the fire stuff is Dan's problem! Yeah. He packed a lot of shop hours into those few days.

Dirby, Erica and Nicole showed up too, for the final push. Dirby worked at the shop, while Erica and Nicole went off to work with Sadie to get the food together for Burning Man. They made a lot of food, and we ate it all, thank you so much!!

My picture taking kind of petered out at this point - it was just too much. I was only working, thinking, arguing, getting lunch, water, gatorade, tea by the gallon, my universe shrank to the moment and my phone was never charged, voicemail full.

There were a lot of details to sort out.

LIke getting the drive engine stuff hooked up. I had to dig deep for the shifter linkage - it's pretty cool though. And it worked! Once we got the bracket shifted 90 degrees. And then the throttle figured out, and the wires run, and the keyswitch hooked up, and the radiator hoses fitted, and the battery mounted, the driveshaft bolted in, the brakes figured out.

It was great fun, truth be told - this thing is the ultimate rat rod! The exhaust is so cool - just 90 degrees and out through a glasspack. It's also fun because everything around the engine is so exposed - the wiring was so easy, it's all right out in the open. We even gave it gauges, which was a great idea, as it turned out - our radiator cooling fan was insufficiently powerful, and the motor would heat up driving around on the playa, and having that lit up guage was such a great thing.

And also, there was the sound system to sort out, the amps and speakers to hang, the cables and connectors to route and bundle. So much crap.

Oh, and the rest of the decking - that was a rough job as well. We did that late at night, when we were too tired to do anything else - Barley would cut boards to length, and Will Dirby and I would screw them down. Measure, find the closest scrap board, cut it, fit it into place, check alignment repeatedly whilst tapping, pre drill, screw down, repeat a thousand times. Unbelievably, it got it done. It seemed to take forever, night after night, the list always had 'finish decking" still left on it... The stage turned out to be the coolest - Barley and Will left the original raw and strange ends sticking out past the frames, which gives it a super piratical feel, and it is so great. All the wood on the decks has now been recycled twice - it was originally in an apartment in New York, and then recycled into the decking for the original carousel, and then all taken apart once more and fit up to the new version. It has a lot of character!

Justina and Josephine try out the stage. Lookin good.

that's the gangplank in the background - we got that working too. Double hinges!

Super cool forelock - scrap from Barley's wiring project.

And the wiring! Oh man oh man. The wiring. The thing has 110v circuits run all around for power distribution, and then of course all the trailer wiring, the endless lights. Barley did it all, wire after wire. And it all worked, of course. Boy was I glad! There are a lot of wires.

one last shot before it's time to pack up.

And here it is, all folded up!

It's just incredible how much work goes into making something. Even when it's all framed and decked and horsed, it still needs wires, speakers, railings, awnings... And then, finally, when you look up and it sits there in front of you, all complete, it is just such a feeling. I wasn't quite there - there were still so many things to do.

lotsa pounds in a box

and lots more to go.

Like get everything packed in the box truck, loaded and strapped on the carousel, get the food and beer and tools and all bazillion pounds of crap organized and tied down. We hit the road 12 hours behind schedule.


Unbelievable. We had done it. We built the carousel.

Thank you so much, everybody who kicked into this project, who sweated with me, who worked with me to make this dream come true...