Kinetic Sculpture Race participants show mettle with their pedals

Seven Arbutus Middle School students participated in the 14th annual Kinetic Sculpture Race in Baltimore for the first time May 5 and the school is already making plans for a return.

Sunday's event kicked off at Federal Hill in Baltimore with a field of amphibious, man-powered vehicles facing a course that featured five obstacles — a steep hill, the cobblestones of Fells Point, water in Canton and sand and mud pits in Patterson Park — before returning to the start.

With entries in the shapes of cannons, caterpillars, dinosaurs and cafe tables, the event encourages artistic as much as engineering mastery.

The Arbutus entry, a vehicle shaped like an eagle's nest, was the result of work that began in September.

But the time on the course was short, as the students saw the sculpture suffer a catastrophic breakdown that knocked it out of the race after the first mile.

Michael Guarraia, an Arbutus Middle teacher who supervised the project, said the vehicle's wheels couldn't support the weight of the three passengers and all of the equipment and cracked.

Though the sculpture no longer could traverse the ground portion of the event, it was still sea-worthy enough to finish the water obstacle.

"Overall, we didn't make the whole course, but we were still thrilled to be part of the event," Guarraia said. "I think we learned a lot for next year."

Though the frame and other mechanical parts to the sculpture will remain largely the same next year, the Guarraia said the aesthetic would be different.

The local communities may have a chance to see the nest again. Guarraia said he plans to have it in the Arbutus and Catonsville Fourth of July parades if repairs and upgrades can be completed in time.

Along with the hard work of the students, Guarraia commended teachers, parents and community members for their support.

Guarraia said funding for the project came from an $8,700 grant from Engineering Information Foundation that helped purchase the 16 bicycle chains, go-kart steering parts, uniforms and the hundreds of dollars of purple feathers used as decoration.

Eric Bouchat of Bouchat Industries did the welding on the project and lent the school time in his shop and materials.

Devin Popper, Austin Ripple, Phoebe Thomas, Shawn Handley, Andrew Tayman, Madison Tivvis and Emma Runge were the students who constructed and drove the structure.

Rumspringa runs into problems

Phillip Smith and Melissa Koerner missed their goal of completing all five obstacles when a pontoon on their Amish buggy became struck on a clump of mud.

The right side drive of the buggy malfunctioned after the third obstacle.

Smith, of Arbutus, and Koerner, of Catonsville, took turns powering the 750-pound sculpture, which had two sets of pedals and gears.

They lost the sizable lead that they had built up about five miles into the race, Smith said.

"A few times, we came to a screeching halt. We had no more strength," Smith said. "It's a third of a ton that you're pedaling by yourself."

They eventually did conquer the sand and mud pits and make it back to Federal Hill.

The effort earned them an Ace Award, for completing all five obstacles.

Smith credited the engineering work of his father, Joe Smith, and the dozen crew members who helped make repairs to the buggy on the fly for completing the course.

In addition to sore legs, completing this year's race came at a high price.

"The race just completely trashed that vehicle," Smith said. "The basic frame could be saved, but everything else is just about done."

After some repairs, Rumspringa will return to action on May 19 at the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby in Philadelphia, a much less competitive affair, Smith said.

Smith and Koerner will retire the Amish buggy.

They plan on brainstorming new designs in preparation for next year.

This story has been updated.

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