Initial Contact

Finding out about getting on the show was made a bit more complex by the name change that the US network made.  (in the UK, they call it Scrapheap Challenge)  With the help of the UK model engineering community, I found the original name for the show, and with that, the UK production company.  I was delighted to learn that they were going to do another season, and they were even still accepting team applications; but not for much longer.

Since time was short, I gave the production company a call.  The folks at RDF weren't sure about providing plane fare, but they had no problem with a bunch of Yanks applying, if we could meet the application deadlines (which were only a few weeks away). They dispatched the team information packet, application form, and instructions.

Oh yea, deadlines.  Since the US showing was well after the UK one, the applications happened to be due in about two weeks time.  (which was how long it took the post to get the forms to us, they arrived on the due date).  Jackie was very helpful, I promised her the forms would be in her electronic mailbox Monday morning, and the tape would follow as fast as FEDEX could get it to her.

Gathering the team

I put out the (email) call to a list of like minded friends, and received enthusiastic responses from Bill (Crash), and George (Geo).  Click on our heads to see how each of us answered the various questions.

Geo's application form.dp's application formCrash's application form

 Geo's form  dp's formCrashes' form

The Demo Tape

Along with the forms, they asked us to make a short ("we won't watch more than 5 minutes") video tape, "two minutes of each member introducing themselves, then 3 minutes of explaining how something technological works".  Choice of what to explain was ours, they welcomed anything "from a toaster to a jet engine".   My original thought was to demonstrate how various historic keyboard instruments worked (clavichord, harpsichord, and piano) using larger-than-life models.  Crash suggested that we cut a "Mr. Coffee" in half and explain how the hot water got from the reservoir to the basket, without an obvious pump. (He volunteered to bring his sawzall, so we could bisect it on camera.)  Geo suggested the works of a sewing machine, as while many used them, few understand just how the stitches are actually formed.

We all agreed that explaining a sewing machine was the best of the three (besides we didn't have a spare Mr. Coffee to sacrifice), and with a borrowed video camera, and without a script, we headed over to Geo's Chinatown loft to start filming.  The introductions were quickly dispatched, and we moved to the next phase, constructing the model of a sewing machine.  We did this on camera, as it seemed like it would show how we would manage under "real life" conditions.  Materials were things "just lying around" Geo's space.  With a spool of electric blue Cat-5 ethernet cable for the bobbin itself, and some PVC pipe for the needle, the three of us took our positions.  Crash played the needle and tension arm, I was the hook and feed dogs, and Geo rolled around on the floor as the bobbin.

We made 5 stitches in a hunk of mat board, each of us calling out our role as we played out the part. We got genuine two thread lock stitches, and (incidentally) showed why a presser foot is a good idea.  We did some basic editing, and I left with a precious item, the original copy of the final version.  I had it converted to PAL, and sent both off with paper copies of the forms.  Later Geo played with some real editing gear, and produced the "dance mix" version (fancy titles, etc.).  Special thanks to Raissa, for operating the camera, and providing the opening joke. You can watch Sewing machine magic hosted on Metacafe
Sewing Machine Magic - A Successfull Junkyard Wars Audition. - Funny video clips are a click away

Making the short list

Three weeks later, I picked up the phone, and a British accented voice told me that the team was "on the short list".  I started to jump up and down, and immediately sent some email to the others letting them know.  The next step is normally a day trip to London for a "live" challenge, and extended audition.  Each team is given an identical kit of parts, a challenge task, and 45 minutes time to carry it out.  To better simulate "live action", the production company is carrying on a conversation with the team as they work.

The Atlantic makes a day trip very difficult, so I got a list of supplies to acquire.  The plan was that we would have a video camera running, and they would call and tell us what problem we had to solve.  We actually improved on the original plan by having a webcam so they could  watch live  (a task made much more complicated by the imposition of firewalls, and by some bugs in MS NetMeeting).

The long audition

Too early on a Saturday morning in March, (especially for LCS who is quite nocturnal), we converged on an office at MIT (a way to get a fast net connection without the challenge of a firewall).  Thanks to Larry (light, sound, space), Nancy (web cam) and Jered  (normal video and PAL conversion).  With the speakerphone cranked up to full volume, they gave us the challenge task.  Since they would like to use the task with future teams, I can't reveal it.   I can say our solution succeeded, and its construction required a lot of string.   When we sketched out our solution in "schematic" form, the weights that powered things were drawn as a mix of anvils and "acme" 16 ton weights  (think Willy E. Coyote).

They asked some technical and safety habits questions, and the team and film crew retired to a lecture hall to watch ourselves on a large screen (it happened to be the nearest VCR to duplicate the tape with), and to gather energy to face the rest of the day. (The taping session was intense, and we were left seriously short on adrenaline.)  They had a few more teams to audition, so it would be a tense 3 weeks before we would hear their answer.

We make the cut!

On March 28th my company held an overnight retreat, putting me out of touch.  Of course that was when the roster was settled. I got to the hotel after midnight, checked my email, and found a "call me" message from Jackie.  I left her the number at the hotel, and gave her a time to call. (a very early time, as I had to be out the door by 6:30 am) She called and said "Unfortunately you will be spending your summer with us".  Since it was so early, I had to restrain my urge to jump around and shout.   I let the others know, and was too excited to get  back to sleep.

Taping Schedule

Right now we are scheduled to tape the week of June 4.  More details as we learn them.

We leave for London Friday evening, 2 June 2000.  While the construction taping isn't until Wednesday, we are allowing an an ample buffer to hopefully get over some of the jet lag.

Jeff making caltropsWelding Practice.  Since the primary welding technology used on-set appears to be MIG, those of us that normally practice other welding disciplines. decided to borrow a machine and give it a go.  Crash supplied the venue, Phil kindly brought over his machine, dp supplied the scrap metal to practice on and automatic welding helmets to play with. Also in attendance was Alex. Crash taught her how to use a cutting torch, and the basics of gas welding.  I suspect both Phil and Crash will be purchasing auto-darkening welding helmets very soon. (the picture isn't of MIG, but I like the fireball)