Local News

Monday, Jan 17 2011 06:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: They just don't make boys like him anymore

By The Bakersfield Californian

He's an old-fashioned boy. Think Henry Huggins, Homer Price or the Hardy Boys. Nowadays, those kinds of kids live in books.

This version is named Shane Thulin. He's 16, attends Frontier, runs cross country and track. Shane is a dutiful student who earns good grades, but grades are not the measure of this young man.

If you were to guess, you'd say that the classroom has captured about 10 percent of his interest; the other 90 percent runs amok in his shop at home. There, with his bike parts, tools, welding torch, grinder, weight bench and a six-shelf steel work bench, Shane unfurls all of the sails in his imagination.

Years from now, his high school teachers may not remember him, but his friends, family and neighbors will. His contraptions are half mechanical and half whimsical. These are inventions with a sense of humor.

"You have to meet this guy," a friend said. "He's put together a double-decker tandem bike."

When I heard it, I didn't know if I had heard it right. A double-decker tandem bike? That's what you said?

Naturally, there was a video on YouTube that had received a zillion hits. Naturally, I ignored it. Naturally, after I visited Shane who lives with his parents, Kelly and Roger, in way-out-yonder land in the northwest, I changed my snotty little tune, returned to the office and cued up the video.

"This is the kind of kid you want your kid to hang out with," the friend said. "I'm happy mine does."

Think Popular Mechanics, the Scientific American, a father who can take apart a car engine and a mother (her real job is as a reading teacher) who can wire a house if you dared her.

Shane learned how to weld at 14 after being enthralled by knifing through a three-quarter-inch steel plate with a cutting torch. He was so fired up he bought a Chicago Electric welder at Harbor Freight for $110. In order to build the double- decker tandem bike, Shane had to weld three bikes together along with some square metal tubing. The seat came from an old office chair.

"Sometimes, we ride it to Rite Aid, two blocks away," Shane said. "We get some funny looks."

Shane has that "what if" kind of curiosity. As in "what if" you made a motorcycle with a lawn mower engine and a seat fashioned from carpet padding wrapped with vinyl.

"What if" is more fun if it includes junk people were going to throw away or stuff that has been abandoned like the real-estate sign Shane found rusting away and caked with dirt in the field that skirts his neighborhood. He used the sign for the frame on the dirt bike.

"The motorbike was not exactly street legal," Shane said. "I got stopped by a cop on the way to a field but he became so interested in the bike that he asked me how I had built it and how long it had taken."

Rather than risk breaking the law again, Shane built a bike rack for the back of his car so he could transport it. If he has a choice between buying and building, Shane happily pulls out the welding torch.

Shane built another bike powered by a Weed Wacker that his Uncle Andy gave him. The bike is street legal and will go 35 mph. It's for sale. Shane has somewhat of an inventor's attention span. Once he's built something, he's either improving it or building a new contraption that has captured his imagination.

Shane built an 8-foot skateboard, a radio-controlled plane with a wireless camera on it so it could beam pictures like a drone, a potato gun from PVC pipe that blew up in his hand and made his ears ring (Shane didn't cry and wouldn't even admit to his mom that he had hurt himself).

He launched a potato down the street, which hit his neighbor's roof. She was gardening at the time and hardly flinched. That's Shane, she thought. Shane and his inventions.

Shane will smooth neighborhood feathers by fixing the bikes on his block. When kids bring over their BMXs with the bent rims, broken spokes and loose handlebars, Shane assigns them a job and gets them involved.

"After school and practice, he goes to his shop and tinkers for hours," said mom Kelly, half disapproving and half not. "He might neglect his homework."

Shane likens his latest project to a Go-Ped on steroids. Like his dirt bike, it will be powered by a lawn mower engine.

"This thing will only go about 30, but it will have a lot of torque," Shane said. "I'll probably be able to do wheelies."

Prepare to be dazzled. If not, click on YouTube for the video.

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