Kinetic Sculpture race

Arbutus resident Phillip Smith, his girlfriend, Melissa Korner, of Catonsville, and his father, Joe, put together a Amish inspired buggy creation for the Kinetic Sculpture race in Baltimore May 5. (Staff photo by Ed Bunyan / April 26, 2011)

The smell of spray paint filled the air on April 26 and the black buggy looked as if it would be more at home in Pennsylvania Dutch country than at the end of an Arbutus driveway.

Wearing work clothes and a bandanna around his head, 39-year-old Phillip Smith was busy mounting the carriage body onto a frame.

His girlfriend, Catonsville resident Melissa Koerner, 33, had just arrived from her job as a program coordinator at a school for acupuncture dressed in business casual attire to check on their sculpture vehicle's progress.

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With only 10 days before the 14th annual Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, the couple had at least 25 hours of work left on their entry, a hybrid of an Amish buggy and two bicycles.

Compared with many in the race, the buggy is among the more conservative-looking entries.

It should also be one of the most mobile. The pair designed the vehicle they named Rumspringa to conquer the varied types of obstacles of the May 5 race in Baltimore City sponsored by the American Visionary Art Museum.

Rumspringa will traverse the steep slopes of Federal Hill, cobblestones of Fells Point, water off the shore of Canton and pits of sand and mud in Patterson Park during the 15-mile race.

Rumspringa is the Amish rite of passage during which adolescents explore the world outside their cloistered community.

Participating as rookies last year, Smith and Koerner did not earn the coveted Ace designation for pilots who conquer each obstacle because one of their CVC pontoons struck a clump of mud and they got stuck.

"We missed it by just a hair," said Smith, regret tingeing his tone. "It's definitely been a learning experience between the two of us."

Smith had for several years gone to the race to assist competitors who were having mechanical difficulties.

After he met Koerner, he told her about the race with the idea that they would go down and watch.

"We had started talking about going to see it together," Koerner said. "As things progressed, I decided I don't want to watch it. I wanted to be in it."

They didn't start building their buggy until about four months before the event.

"Building the vehicle was much harder than I thought it would be," Smith said. "The challenges of making something go on water and on land well are counter to each other."

Though they didn't conquer the five obstacles, they earned the Engineering Award, which sat in the dining room of Smith's parents, Joe and Elaine Smith, for several months after the race.

The award resembles many of the eclectic, colorful entries in the race. It consists of a gold hand with fuzzy red finger tips, pinwheel flowers, stuffed alligator, plastic cockroaches, shopping cart wheel and orange bungee cord.

According to the race website, judges give the Engineering Award in "consideration of ingenious conquering of course obstacles through Sculpture design as well as any ingenious facet of the design that functions in a truly unique or Glorious Manner."

Not willing to chalk up last year's failure to conquer the muddy obstacle to bad luck, Koerner, Smith and his father, the team's "master technician," revamped the street-legal buggy.