INVENTION -- Cornelius couple finds fame with nitro-powered lawnmower after a simple tune-up spawns a creative surge
Jordon and Callie Vogel didn't set out to attract a bunch of attention. They just wanted to tune up their lawnmower.
After sitting unused in the garage all last winter, Jordon figured the push mower needed some attention and, being mechanically inclined, he knew what to do.
So, in February, he changed the oil. Then, he replaced the spark plugs and upgraded the air cleaner. Before long, he equipped it with a carburetor, muffler, and other spare parts from his truck.
By the time he was finished with the tune-up, the once-humble lawn mower was a shredding machine powered with nitrous oxide, usually used to propel race cars and fighter jets (and to anesthetize dental patients).
The Cornelius couple found that the high-powered fuel boosted their invention's destructive capabilities, rather than speeding up the lawn-mowing process.
'It works better for cutting up pop cans and vegetables,' Callie conceded, noting that when it's time to actually trim the grass surrounding their home, they remove the 60-pound nitrous oxide tank and other heavy modifications.
The first incarnation of their nitro-mower aroused so much curiosity that the Vogels decided to build a more refined version to promote their home-based T-shirt printing business, Callie's Kustoms.
Rather than just 'slapping together' the contraption, as he had with the first one, Jordon took the time to alter parts and create a mower worthy of appearing in a hot-rod show. MowZilla ended up costing about $1,000 altogether.
'Just about everything had to be custom bent, custom machined, or had something done to it,' said Jordon.
Pictures of the couple posted on the Internet generated rumors that the nitrous tank and associated gear were merely superficial accoutrements, rather than working equipment.
In response, the Vogels made a videotape of the MowZilla decimating watermelons, blowing up soda bottles and reducing an entire Christmas tree to needles and splinters.
'We were half expecting the motor to blow up, but it wouldn't,' Jordan said. 'We were kind of surprised.'
The footage soon appeared on popular Websites like YouTube.com and CollegeHumor.com, dispelling notions the nitro was only for show and, in the process, raising the profile of the couple's Website, CalliesKustoms.com. What had started out as a joke turned out to be a valuable advertising vehicle for their company.
In the world of viral video, where a man can film himself pretending to be a light-saber-wielding Jedi knight and earn international notoriety, the Vogels picked the perfect medium to reach thousands of people.
'People like watching stuff get chewed up,' Callie said, explaining the appeal of the MowZilla. 'It's universal.'
More important, MowZilla tends to capture the imagination of mechanically inclined 'gear heads' - the exact demographic most likely to be interested in the Vogel's car- and truck-oriented T-shirts.
The couple started Callie's Kustoms in December 2005 after Jordon quit his job as a shuttle-bus driver for Portland Community College due to a hip problem. After more than five years of married life in Cornelius, they decided the time was right to try their luck and start a small business together.
When they're not coming up with marketing schemes, the Vogels concentrate on the nitty-gritty part of their business, which is designing and screen-printing graphics onto T-shirts.
While many of their creations are hot rod related, others are just plain wacky, like the picture of a famous Star Wars character that reads 'Party like Chewbacca.'
Collaborating on projects they both enjoy - whether it's making T-shirts or lawnmowers that run on nitrous oxide - has proven so fulfilling the Vogels often have a hard time tearing away from their work. So far, procrastination has been the last problem they've had with being their own bosses.
'We don't mind doing it, so we have to pull ourselves away from it sometimes,' Jordon said.
Currently, the couple is focusing on the restoration of Jordon's 1958 Chevy flatbed truck, but they admit the popularity of the MowZilla has led them to consider the possibility of building a souped-up weed whacker or kitchen blender. On the other hand, they seek to avoid becoming a one-trick pony.
'We don't want to play it out,' Jordon said.
Nonetheless, MowZilla fans may still have more videos to look forward to. In the future, the Vogels may film the mower running over teddy bears for Valentine's Day, fruitcakes for Christmas, and stuffed turkeys for Thanksgiving, Callie said.
'We've thought about doing seasonal videos,' she said.