Nifty Links by Ellin Beltz

Kinetic Sculpture Racing Links

"Our problems are our rewards.
It's part of our heritage -- to compete, to be challenged."
Hobart Brown

"I realized after talking to a reporter ... that this was the most spiritual event I will ever participate in ...
its sole purpose is to make strangers smile,"
Neil Benson
Kinetic Sculpture Race - Links


  • Lake County Record-Bee - Lake County, CA
    Elliot S. Naess - Special to the Record-Bee

    HUMBOLDT COUNTY -- Celebrations continue on Cobb Mountain where Tappy and Keith Nelson live with their mechanical pet "Melvin." During the Memorial Day weekend, Melvin and the Nelsons, and third pilot Dave Rempe of Novato, were crowned grand champion at the 37th Annual Arcata-To-Ferndale Cross Country Kinetic Sculpture Race.

    Melvin consists mostly of seven wheels and three sets of bicycle pedals and the art work, which is a vital element for this racing machine.

    Kinetic Sculpture Racing has been called a sport, a hobby, an engineering contest and an art-form. It is all of that, and to many participants it is almost a second family. Says Tappy Nelson: "It is creative, humorous, fun, crazy and healthy and we get to hang out with other creative, humorous, fun, crazy and healthy people. We love our kinetic family."

    Longtime residents of Cobb, the Nelsons also have normal lives, of course. Tappy is a fourth-grade teacher at Cobb Mountain Elementary and Keith is a control technician at Calpine in the Geysers. Their son Kristopher is also active in the sport, having raced successfully on his own and now serving as "pit crew" for his parents. Ron Haworth and Alex Richardson round out the team.

    Kinetic Sculpture Racing was founded in the Humboldt County town of Ferndale in 1969 when metal sculptor Hobart Brown built a five-wheeled tricycle for his son. A fellow artist one-upped him and a block-long race ensued.

    Today the annual race starts in Arcata and ends 40 miles and three days later at the original finish line on Ferndale's Main Street. Racers travel over back roads, sand dunes, water, mud and anything else that nature might throw at them, and camping outdoors is required to qualify for trophies. The only rule, other than basic safety precautions, is that the vehicles must be human-powered. Most teams, like the Nelsons, rely heavily on bicycle parts, but any mechanism is allowed so long as the energy comes only from the riders themselves. Art and pageantry is just as important as speed, and outright whimsy is encouraged.

    A key element of the sport is the difficult transition from water to land, where many teams find themselves unable to get traction when their front wheels are already butting against the shore. The Nelsons solve the problem by letting the air out of Melvin's inflatable pontoons just as they reach shore, thus deliberately sinking the vehicle until the drive wheels gain purchase on the bottom. So what if they all get a bit wet in the process.

    Having perfected the mechanical function of their three-piece train of bicycle parts years ago, the Nelsons now concentrate on their artwork. Over its 24-year life, Melvin has been made up as a wide variety of critters all built from cardboard, chicken wire, cloth, papier-mch and similarly simple materials. This year's version portrays two little pigs being chased by the big bad wolf. With Melvin's patented performance over every terrain and the pilots' considerable muscular efforts, this getup earned top honors among the 45 entries from several states. Two other Lake County teams participated, but neither was able to finish the entire course without breakdowns.

    There are many other Kinetic Sculpture Races around the country, but the Nelsons usually limit themselves to the grand championship.

    They will make an exception this year by participating in the Third Annual Clearlake Kinetic Sculpture Race in the City of Clearlake Saturday, July 2. That race is part of the Redbud Parade and Patriotic Festival, and additional entries of every skill level are welcome.

    There is even a $200 reward for first prize, which may or may not go to the fastest team. Contact me by email at, or call parade chairman Ray Bridges at 994-3070 for more information.

    Editor's Note: Elliot Naess is a Clearlake resident and race organizer for the July 2 event. [reprinted here at the request of Mr. Naess]
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel - June 3, 2005
  • Klamath Falls, Oregon Herald and News - June 2, 2005
  • The Eureka Times Standard - May 31, 2005 (subscription archives)
  • The Eureka Reporter - May 27, 2005
  • The Eureka Times Standard - May 27, 2005 (subscription archives)
  • Clearlake Record-Bee - May 24, 2005
  • The Eureka Times Standard - May 23, 2005 (subscription archives)
  • The New York Times - May 20, 2005
  • The Arcata Eye - May 17, 2005
  • The Arcata Eye - May 10, 2005
  • The Arcata Eye - May 3, 2005
  • The Arcata Eye - April 26, 2005
  • The North Coast Journal is our official local media outlet. They published a 2 page tab insert in the May 19, 2005 issue which was available in kiosks all over our race course next weekend.
  • The Eureka Times-Standard has run some lovely things about the WEB fashion show and the Rutabaga Queen party. Unfortunately, their online subscription policy precludes us from giving the urls to their pages as they will within one week make you pay to read them!

  • The Carnivale Fantaveicoli sixth of February - the eighth annual "competitive parade of fantastic vehicles... 35 participants." A full update will be posted as soon as the competition is over.
  • The Ferndale Museum has historical displays and a dollhouse of the Glorious Founder Hobart Brown's gallery and home on Main Street.







Before 1999

Kinetic Sculpture Races Around the World


  • Perth, Australia - Kinetic Sculpture Race. Sponsored by Rotary since 1999, this year's race benefits the Princess Margaret Hospital and includes a juried art exhibition, a search for genius and another for goddess, as well as an interesting through town and across the Swan River course. This year's race is the sixth annual and was held March 6th, 2004.

  • Poland - Kinetic Sculpture Race ran in 1996 outside of Warsaw.

United States

Movies and Television

  • It Will Have Blinking Eyes, homepage for China Blue which produced this 1993 documentary film about Kinetic Sculpture Racing and the people who live it.
  • Over the past thirty-five years, the Grand Championship has been covered by Canadian, Japanese, and U.S. television shows including Good Morning America, Associated Press, United Press International, National Public Radio, The Osgood Files, Eureka Times-Standard, North Coast Journal and many others. Some video and press material is available at the Kinetic Sculpture Museum in Ferndale, California while more is archived by Hobart Brown.


  • Hobart Tells All, by John Wilson and Hobart Brown (ISBN: 1879312077) is available through the Clarke Museum in Eureka (707-443-1947) and other sources.
  • Crazy Contraptions: A light-hearted look at Ferndale's Kinetic Sculpture Race. Stan Bennett. 1975. Low Tide Lumber Company Publishers. 96 pages, paperbound. Cover photo by Duane Martin. Supported by Viola Russ McBride. No ISBN.

on the bus with the bus
Rob, Hobart, Ellin, Theresa and other grownups on the People-Powered Bus being pushed by actors from "How to Eat Like a Child" and the Young Actor's Workshop in the parade in honor of Ferndale's 150th Birthday, August 24, 2002. The theme of the bus was Hobart's motto "Adults having fun so children want to get older." Photos by Ken Mierzwa.

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Ellin Beltz
March 3, 2006
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