Monday, April 9, 2012

1st update: Application Accepted!

It's official! The Burning Man org accepted my application, and why wouldn't they? This idea is ridiculously ambitious and sounds difficult to pull off. In other words, if this becomes reality, it will be awesome. So I now have to put aside my doubts (like where am I going to find 600+ hours to build this beast while working a full time demanding job) and get to it.

I've been looking on Craigslist and Ebay for trucks since last Fall, and am thinking this fits the bill:

Flat bead delivery truck 1994 - $2600 (Jarupa)

1994 GMC Stake Bed, 16 foot diesel. Lift gate. Well maintained. High miles but runs good, 395,000 miles. Call Don at 951-903-3747.

So I'm gonna call on this one tomorrow. Realistically I'd rather a Flat Bed truck than a Flat Bead truck, but this will do. And it already has half a rack, which I need to build anyway.

Oh and here's the acceptance letter from Burning Man. I didn't read it entirely either, but there's plenty of time for that later and I skimmed it. If you're bored, read it an let me know if there's anything useful there:

Dear Steven Nilsen,

This is an invitation to bring your Mutant Vehicle to Burning Man 2012 for on-playa inspection. THIS IS NOT YOUR LICENSE, NOR DOES IT GRANT YOU ONE. Actual licenses are granted in Black Rock City when, and if, you pass the on-playa inspection.

This letter confirms that you passed the first level of inspection; read on for important information about what is next.


You MUST bring a printout of this letter with you to Black Rock City. Gate personnel will not allow any towed vehicle into the event site without a copy of this letter. If you do not have this letter when you get to the Gate, you will have to leave the vehicle in the lot at the gate before entering the city. In this case, come to the DMV between noon and 5pm and ask for help getting your vehicle into the event. Because those that brought their letter get serviced first, and because it is a taxing endeavor to get a towed vehicle through the gate without this letter, it may take hours or even days to get your vehicle in. Please remember this and be patient if you find yourself in this position.


This letter allows you to drive your Mutant Vehicle from your camp to the DMV.

This letter should be in your vehicle (and available) during this short trip directly to the DMV. If you are stopped by Law Enforcement, the Black Rock Rangers, or any other authority, this letter shows you are in compliance with the rules of BRC. This only applies for the trip directly to the DMV from your camp.

The DMV is located on the Esplanade near center camp. Check your BRC map for our specific location this year.

The DMV will open on the Saturday before the event opens and is open through Saturday the day of the Burn.

We will open at 11:00am and process Mutant Vehicles until sunset. We will then close until it is dark enough to process night vehicles, around a half hour, and then remain open until 10:30 pm. You must be in line by 6:30 for day licensing and by 10:30pm for night licenses or you’ll have to wait until the next day to get processed. We close at 3:00pm our last day, Saturday, the day of the Burn.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are applying for a night license, whether you are getting a day license or not, you will need to make TWO trips to the DMV: a first trip during the day (before 6:30) for initial inspections and to complete paperwork, and then again after dusk to have your lighting inspected and to receive your night license.


At the DMV your vehicle will be photographed and inspected. If your vehicle passes inspection, it will be issued a license. Licenses are a 12" long by 3" high bumper sticker. Licenses must be affixed to the back of your vehicle on the lower-left (drivers) side and you should make allowances for this on your vehicle. If your vehicle is approved for a day and night license, you will need a 12" by 6" space for two stickers. The placement on the rear left side is MANDATORY. This applies to each trailer segment as well.


When you submitted your DMV applications, you agreed to adhere to Black Rock City driving protocols. See These regulations and protocols will be enforced. Violations will result in impound, fine and/or ejection from the event for you and/or your vehicle.

Thanks for applying. We wish the best for you and your Mutant Vehicle. See you on the Playa!

-The DMV Hotties

Application from February 26, 2012

Her name is the M/V Trouble and she is a modern 1000 foot Great Lakes ore freighter, although at this point the vast front hull is completely submerged leaving only the bridge and stern visible. The name comes from the Red Dwarf of Detroit, "Nain Rouge", who appears to presage terrible events in that city, such as the great fire of 1805, the war of 1812, and the riot of 1967. This ship is a warning to all that carefully laid plans are not enough when “the harbinger of doom” shows up.

The intention is to bring a mutant vehicle that resembles large scale art by day and doesn’t look like a drivable piece of art. When parked out in deep playa by day, the passing traveler will walk across the bottom of the dried out lake bed and see in the distance what’s left of this mighty ship. Maybe they will be the only one climbing on the decks of this ghostly apparition, or perhaps it will be cocktail hour. Didn’t they see it sinking the night before? It looks like it’s been in the same spot for decades.

Approaching the ship up close by day, you can imagine yourself 500 years in the future, when the Great Lakes are no more and the shipwrecks of centuries past become visible due to global warming. Perhaps everyone will have moved to California and pumped the Great Lakes dry? This vehicle allows you to explore your own reactions. In the same way a good disaster movie lets you vicariously live through difficult times and prepare you for adversity in your real life, this piece will force you to ponder nuclear war, global warming, post-apocalyptic life, the temporary existence of humans. You will experience echoes of the Exxon Valdez, Costa Concordia, or Edmund Fitzgerald.

By night, the M/V Nain Rouge is in the process of sinking, and is no longer the wreck at the bottom. When faced with absolute calamity, what will you do? What is your reaction going to be when the ship goes down? Will you abandon ship? Get out the violin and play along with the string quartet?

The ship comes alive with a dance party on the back decks. Glowing blue cold-cathode tubes illuminate the ground underneath, white LED rope lights outline the superstructure and red LED lights outline the hull. With three levels of platforms and a ramp down the side, participants can rehearse the correct reaction to impending doom: to dance with joy with their community, then eventually abandon ship and face a harsh reality. It’s a metaphor for life: show up, burn brightly, leave.

Regarding the theme of Fertility 2.0: This vehicle is a symbolic counter-argument for fertility. The opposite of fertility is death and destruction. This needs to be contemplated at the same time as fertility.

Sound System:
The sound system is intended to be enjoyed only by the people physically on the decks of the vehicle, and will not blast outward. Speakers will be placed under the forward dance deck on the bed of the truck, and the system will be powered by a combination of a small portable generator and the vehicle’s 12V system.

The sound system is intended to be enjoyed only by the people physically on the decks of the vehicle, and will not blast outward. Speakers will be placed under the forward dance deck on the bed of the truck, and the system will be powered by a combination of a small portable generator and the vehicle’s 12V system.

Equipment currently available: Infinity home speakers powered by a Kenwood 600 W home receiver, 200 w home subwoofer. Car audio equipment includes a Pioneer 600 w mono sub amplifier driving a single 12" car audio subwoofer.

Max db output: 90 db at 30 feet.

The speakers will be aimed to the back of the truck towards the people dancing. When parked on the playa driving with sound system at maximum, the front of the vehicle will be facing the city. This also is the best perspective to approach the vehicle and be surprised by a dance party going on inside.

Safety Considerations:
I am a mechanical engineer with 17 years experience designing car and truck chassies and powertrains for auto manufacturers in Detroit and Southern California. I am bringing all my experience to this project. The base vehicle will be a used, high mileage flat bed commercial truck with a high Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) to ensure the weight of 20- 30 people can be safely handled. The target base vehicle is a Isuzu FTR or GMC T6500 diesel with 26,000 lb GVW and automatic transmission so it can still be driven without a commercial driver’s license. A slightly scaled-down version would start from an Isuzu NPR diesel with a 14,000 lb GVW to handle 15 passengers. Budget and truck availability will determine the final scale chosen.

The cosmetic structure will be lightweight steel with thin veneer skin of either 1/8” plywood or fabric, and the platforms on the bed of the truck will be similar to outdoor decks made of wood like you would find at a residential house. No one will be allowed to climb or sit on the cosmetic frame enclosing the cab. The cab will have a fold-down screen to enable unobstructed view forward while driving, but will be folded up by day to completely obscure the windshield all resemblance to a truck.

Railings will be built into the cosmetic structure surrounding the platforms on the bed of the truck. Entry and exit will be via a wooden ramp along the side of the truck supported by steel beams bolted to the frame at the bottom and bed of the truck at the top. The ramp will have a door in the false hull at the bottom which must be opened to enter the vehicle, and entry from the front is not possible. At this point, the plan is to have one ramp to minimize the number of crew required to operate. There’s a design possibility to have ramps on both sides of the vehicle: one for entry and exit. Railings will be provided by the hull shape, and the front and rear wheels will be blocked off by the design to keep passengers away. Ideally, the ramp would be wide enough to handle a wheelchair but this is not decided, and may be added for future returns to BRC.

The build crew and budget is extremely small for such a large and ambitious mutant vehicle, so the design is being kept as simple as possible. The Orange County, San Jose, and Detroit members of our camp do not all have tickets to go so this is our major challenge. So far, only four people in our camp have tickets. Finishing touches for the vehicle will be done at Big Art Labs in LA. I would like this vehicle to be far more detailed and with multimedia lighting and sound, but with a skeleton crew, the design is very squared off and easy to build while meeting the intent described above.