Imagine a vehicle that combines parts from old buses and Volkswagen Beetles with bicycle frames.
“I always say it breaks necks wherever it goes. People do triple takes when they see it going down the street,” Hans Early-Nelson says of this vehicle that does exist and will be in Waupaca Saturday for Arts on the Square.
The Pedal Cloud is a 10-person, pedal-powered vehicle that also has a driver. It was built in 2008 using completely salvaged materials, he said.
Early-Nelson, along with several other artists, built it in partnership with Forecast Public Arts in celebration of the group’s 30th anniversary.
“I had just built another contraption with some other artists,” the Minneapolis artist said.
That contraption was called the Mobile Home Shanty and was for a winter festival, he said.
Forecast Public Arts funds artists and saw the shanty. It had an idea for the artists to build something for their anniversary.
“We came up with the design and agreed to showcase it for them for the rest of the year,” Early-Nelson said.
The idea to create the Pedal Cloud came from people in the city, he said.
“There is another outfit that does the PedalPub. They’re made in Holland. They rent them out,” Early-Nelson said. “My friends and I didn’t really have the resources to put something professional together. We partially got the idea from how they did that.”
It took the artists about two months to create the Pedal Cloud. The core builders were Early-Nelson, Matt Carlyle, Julia Kouneski and Juliana Peterson.
Working on such projects is nothing new for Early-Nelson.
He has worked on his own as an artist since 2007 and is the owner of Primitive Precision Metalcraft.
“I use lots of recycled, repurposed materials to make jewelry, housewares,” Early-Nelson said. “I love to take objects and take them apart and reassemble them to make something refreshing, something new. A large part of my business is making custom handrails and guardrails and furniture.”
He said there are probably 1,000 man-hours in the Pedal Cloud. They had a lot of help with the project. “I was working 80-plus-hour weeks,” he said. “We called ourselves the Black Beans Associates.”
With no time to work on their own projects, black beans and garlic became their affordable menu of choice.
He describes the Pedal Cloud as “very whimsical and fun,” and said that is a direct result of the improvisation that took place throughout the process.
He found working on it challenging and said, “It’s ended up being a great community builder. We bring this thing to events and block parties.”
The Pedal Cloud uses components from VW Beetles and buses, as well as numerous old-school bicycle frames. It was designed to withstand the weight of 10 people pedaling with one driver in front who steers, breaks and shifts through the four-speed VW beetle transmission of the 920-pound piece of mild and stainless steel frame.
The bike car can comfortably travel around 10 to 15 mph with four or more people on the pedal stations.
Since the Pedal Cloud debuted at Minneapolis’ May Day Parade, there have been numerous inquiries about taking the Pedal Cloud to places outside the Twin Cities.
“It almost went to Niagara Falls a couple years ago for a fire department fundraiser,” he said.
It’s trip to Waupaca this week will be its longest one yet.
Early-Nelson will be loading it onto his small Dodge diesel truck for the trip.
The Pedal Cloud is being rented by Arts on the Square as an alternative transport vehicle, he said.
Waupaca Community Arts Board President Marci Reynolds said she originally saw it in Minneapolis.
Early-Nelson happened to be among the artists at last year’s Arts on the Square. The arts board decided to make the Pedal Cloud a part of this year’s festival because, “We like the idea that it is unusual. It truly is a giant metal sculpture, so it is art. It is creative, interactive, physical, fun and it is green.”
There will be a poster at the corner of Union and Jefferson streets listing the approximate times it will be leaving to shuttle people to the Christie House Home & Garden Tour, Hutchinson House and to the depot. There might be time to just go for a ride. Rides are free.
Early-Nelson can be found Saturday at booth No. 17, ready to answer questions about the vehicle.
“I hope people come out and get new ideas from it, and that people consider other options when deciding how to get around,” he said.
Reynolds said the arts board loves “bringing a little bit of the best and most unusual to our little rural community. This is what is so fun about living in a rural area. You have such peace and quiet and natural beauty, but if you get out and about and see some of the wonderfully unique things that are available in bigger metro areas, why not bring them home for a weekend so we can have the best of both worlds?”