Heading off to interview a steampunk artist called Mr Bean, Oamaru Mail reporter Sally Brooker could only guess what she was in for. She wasn’t even close . . .
If you heard a series of explosions near Enfield on Saturday, don’t worry – it was just Andrew Bean’s go-kart.
However, it is no ordinary go-kart. It is jet-propelled.
This Mr Bean is nothing like the dithering ninny namesake played on television and in movies by Rowan Atkinson. He is a quiet, unassuming plumber who channels his inner mad scientist into creating an array of dastardly contraptions.
He was making Steampunk machines before the rest of us had heard of the phenomenon, and attracted the attention of former Forrester Gallery director Warwick Smith while trundling a home-made steam engine down Awamoa Rd many years ago. Mr Bean was then invited to take part in the inaugural Steampunk exhibition at the Forrester and now has some of his creations on show at the Crafted gallery in Harbour St.
They include a motorcycle with a fake grenade cast by Mr Bean himself as the gear lever knob, and a horn that is so loud it makes you jump. Then blush.
The go-kart is still at Mr Bean’s smallholding, tucked away in a shed beside his next big project – a dragster that will be powered by a V8 engine.
Also in the shed is a cannon that fires golf balls.
These are some of the devices he has made from scratch using scrap.
“I’m surprised what people just want to get rid of,” he said.
“I can see the potential.”
That adaptive reuse vision has been put to good effect in and around his house. The gate features a tree containing a bird’s nest, his barbecue’s flue is encased by an old traction engine funnel he found underneath the hedge, and the grate is a design of welded cogs and bike chains.
The outdoor dining area has a huge old industrial door that can be wheeled to one side when extra ventilation is needed, the lights can be swivelled into position overhead, and the lazy susan in the centre of the metal-rimmed plywood table rotates on its axis.
The kitchen bench is hammered copper, the bar stools are copper-topped designer originals, and the cupboard-door handles have been fashioned from metal into decorative shapes.
A water wheel behind his main workshop was turning rapidly when the Oamaru Mail visited, and another outbuilding has become known as the “casting shed”. That is where Mr Bean keeps the foundry he fashioned and where he sand-casts items varying from his own fist to engine panels.
He melts down any old metal he can get, including old taps and cooking pots.
He did not develop his unique mix of heavy machinery and aesthetic detailing until “late on”. He went from Waitaki Boys’ High School into his plumbing career and “got into cars” when he was younger. He could not afford to pay anyone to do modifications or repairs, so he did them himself.
That eventually led to researching other forms of propulsion. He built the go-kart’s jet engine and will do his own work with the V8.
Everything had to work and it also had to look right, he said. His first attempt at the metal bar above the seat in the dragster did not pass muster, so he made a new frame in the shape of a curved hood.
And when he had made the go-kart, a project that took about a year, he thought it looked “a bit boring”, so he made pretend bombs to place on either side as adornments.
“It’s got an afterburner in it as well.
“It’s a dangerous little machine.
“When I first started it up, I was just shaking.
“When it finally burst into life, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Mr Bean loves the satisfaction of designing something and making it a reality.
“I find it fun, actually.”
Most of the big items take about a year.
“There’s nothing on the internet.”
When asked whether his family thought he was a genius or insane, he said he did not know.