Mad Scientists: Meet the Cast

John Bowler JOHN BOWLER, Host

John's a professional builder and master-of-all-trades with the experience to tackle even the oddest custom jobs—like repairing a roof to hold a 300-pound gargoyle and building a tree house with a trapdoor. His broad expertise includes the intricacies of design, electrical, heating, cooling and plumbing systems combined with the artistry of custom cabinetry and furniture. His eclectic background includes projects in writing and illustration and jobs as a personal trainer, art gallery assistant, truck driver, security guard, model, bouncer, drummer, window painter, and, very rarely, an actor.

Cameron Carlson
CAMERON CARLSON, Ojai, California
Featured in "Ultimate Rock Crawler"

Cam has always had a knack for building really cool things, out of other (not so cool) things, like the motor for his son’s toy jeep that he fashioned out of two power drills, and the moped he made from a mountain bike and a weed-eater. But hands down, the coolest thing he’s ever built is an off-road, rock-hopping truck he calls “The Chainlink.” Its unique mechanics allows each chain-driven wheel to operate independently and hydraulically telescope seven feet up and down. Cameron’s dream is to build the ultimate off-road vehicle and run it in the famous “King of the Hammers” race. By all accounts, he’s pretty darn close to achieving that goal.

Len Puch
LEN PUCH, Detroit, Michigan
Featured in "The 26-Foot Lawn Dart"

Len Puch is a Renaissance man for the post-industrial world -- a freelance designer, metalworker, screen printer, and entrepreneur. But above all, Len is the founder/leader/heart-and-soul of “Speedcult Detroit,” a team of fabricators who love fire, danger, and rock-'n'-roll. They work out of a garage on the outskirts of the city, and spend their weekends drinking beer and building Len’s spectacular inventions. The “Abusement Park” is Speedcult’s collection of incredibly crafted, incredibly scary rides, with names like Fire-Shower, Flame-Shooting Bicycle, and Dracula’s Combine. But the Abusement Park’s piece to resistance is Len’s Roaster Coaster, a 40-foot tall, U-Shaped roller coaster complete with free spinning car, go-go cages, and multiple fire cannons. According to Len, “the Roaster Coaster is like a roll over car accident that you get to walk away from.” And that’s Len’s idea of fun.

Needham Brothers
Featured in "The Moon Jumper"

Growing up the middle two siblings out of four, these inventive brothers were taught by their father, an electrical engineer, that failure is only failing if you don’t learn something from it. That fearless attitude has lead the Needhams to construct some of the weirdest contraptions you ever saw. They’re fascinated with figuring out how things work, and have spent the better part of their lives taking things apart and putting them back together. If something is broken, they’ll fix it, and if something works, they’ll make it better. The Needhams are both expert fabricators who are adept at working with metal, wood, and plastics. Their latest contraption is a one-man “Moon Jumper” -- a 40-foot-long counterweighted teeter-totter that spins atop a two-story-high telephone pole in the desert like a merry-go-round and allows for a-90 degree jump straight up. Sound crazy? It is.

Chris Krug
CHRIS KRUG, Augusta, Georgia
Featured in "Turbo-Charged Leaf Blower"

If your job was to install and service 4,000-watt CO2 lasers, what might you do for fun? Well, if you’re Chris Krug, you would acquire a helicopter jet engine and install it in your minivan… or something like that. Chris is a jet-powered genius, who’s built an array of crazy contraptions out of jet engines. His wildest invention yet? A minivan... powered by a 7-foot helicopter engine. That’s 610 shaft horsepower. And man, that baby can fly. In his spare time, Chris enjoys tinkering with computers and electronics, devising creative ways to terrify children on Halloween, and, best of all, making vehicles go much, MUCH faster than they were ever designed to go.

Lance Greathouse
LANCE GREATHOUSE, Phoenix, Arizona
Featured in "Water Cannons on Wheels"

Phoenix-based Lance Greathouse builds ultra-cool wheelchairs – the kind that go off-roading, shoot pellets like a machine gun, and blast flames out of fire cannons. Why wheelchairs? Inspired by his brother’s battle with a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, Lance began designing and building one-of-a-kind wheelchairs for people who needed them. And he never stopped. “My hobby is fixing up wheelchairs and giving them to people who can’t afford them,” says Lance. His crazier inventions combine his fascination with wheelchairs with his other biggest passion – fire. “I love fire. I love controlling fire. Always have my whole life.” With features like jet plane seats, tank treads and, of course, flamethrowers, Lance’s wheelchair contraptions are wild, crazy, and seriously badass. For his day job, Lance works as a dental laser technician.

Gyro Jake
GEORGE “JAKE” JACOB, Southern Florida
Featured in "Swamp Flyer"

They call him Jake. “Gyro Jake.” And the locals say he can build anything. In a small Florida town on the bayou, Jake lives alone with a cat named Stinky and a peacock named Birdie. “I got no family,” he says, “But I got gators.” Jake doesn’t have much use for company, but he builds incredible flying machines, in a 20’ x 20’ shed with no walls. Combining high-quality aircraft hardware with junkyard scrap and a “calibrated eye,” Jake builds one-of-a-kind gyroplanes. Last year Jake beat out teams of professional engineers in the National Autogyro Design Competition. He won first place. Oh, and he won second place, too. Jake has the brains of a world-class mathematician and the creativity of a little kid. “Math will get you 80% of the way there,” Jake says. “The rest is experimentation. And you gotta have a junkyard.”

Johnny Payphone
JOHNNY PAYPHONE, Oakland, California
Featured in "World's Weirdest Bike"

Johnny Payphone is at once way ahead of, and way behind, the times. A self-described “contraptor,” Johnny builds really, really weird bikes that borrow from the past, present and future. His dream is to combine the great engineering innovations of the 20th century with the great transportation innovation of the 19th century -- the bicycle-- and introduce it to the 21st century. Some of his more spectacular hybrid bikes have names like “Long Chainy” (after the famous monster movie actor Lon Chaney) and “Count Chopula.” More about Johnny Payphone? His grandparents met as blimp and flying boat mechanics. Both of his grandmothers were welders. His wife’s name is Bloody Knuckles. And his best friend’s name is Mudd.

Steve Norris
STEVE NORRIS, Medford, Massachusetts
Featured in "Basketball-Playing Robot"

Steve Norris is a robotics genius from a suburb of Boston, whose home is filled with robot servants made out of trash cans, coolers, and handi- vacs. He got involved in computer programming back in the days of punch cards, and he’s stayed on the forefront of software development ever since. For work, he writes a lot of code. For fun, he builds robots that do wacky things with the code he writes. Steve is a regular contributor to Robot Magazine. For his column, he builds a new robot just about every month. That means his house is quite literally crawling with robots. His ottoman finds him by thermal detection. His chessboard has a robotic arm that moves the pieces as it plays against him. His cat-finder is a roving camera that he can control via the internet to look under beds and on top of counters. Steve’s latest innovation, Fire Bot, can locate a small fire and spray it with a fire extinguisher.

Don Giandomenico
DON GIANDOMENICO, San Bernardino, California
Featured in "Jet-Powered Office Chair"

As the son of a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry, Don Giandomenico’s interest in all things big, loud, and fast was sparked early on. The teenage Don dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps, but financial difficulties prevented him from going to college. Instead of a formal education Don spent much of his free time taking apart and putting back together any device he could get his hands on, teaching himself the nuts and bolts of mechanics and electronics. At 22, Don joined an electrician’s apprenticeship program and became a foreman doing commercial and industrial electrical work. In his spare time, he tinkered with all things tech, building his own Tesla coils, Nixie Tube clocks, and steam engines from scratch, and channeled his passion for aerospace engineering into an obsession with remote controlled planes. But that’s just scratching the surface. In his immaculate garage workshop, Don builds his own gas powered and jet powered turbine engines, and then uses those to power ordinary vehicles – like a homemade jet-powered motorcycle.

Featured Episode

  • Photo: Jumping to Great Heights

    The Moon Jumper

    John joins forces with the Needham brothers to build a giant teeter-totter that spins on a telephone pole.

View Episode Guide »

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