by , 08-29-2008 at 06:37 PM (38855 Views)
July 20: I have met Dean Loucks several times. The wild blond hair, red Puma Ferrari
tennis shoes and hip sunglasses help to give him an undeniable rock-star flair. Dean had
suggested he fly us in his customized Engstrom helicopter from the East Chicago
Marina to his shop, The Art of Design (TAOD), located in Elkhart, Indiana (about 90
miles by air). Dean worked as the pilot the previous day at the Chicago Poker Run,
and Sunday was the only day he could give us the tour of his shop.
While waiting for him to fire up the chopper, Bio-Kleen President Tim Kowalski and his
bride, Denise, walked over to say hello. Bio-Kleen has a line of high-performance
cleaning products, which work exceptionally well. We saw them the previous day in Tim’s
1993 35’ Café Cigarette. Tim completely refurbished the Cigarette last year from top
to bottom, including a fresh set of Sterling 572 Dry Sump 700-hp engines.
Earl and I were stoked about taking the chopper instead of driving the 2.5 hours to
Indiana. Seeing the train yards and mills from above gave us a unique and fascinating
After landing at a private airport, Dean drove us over to the shop. He considers the
roads near his office his own private racetrack for his Ford GT and Dodge Viper.
When we walked into the shop, there was an eclectic feel about everything. His original
artwork includes a painted woman, a painted mechanical leg and giant illustrations of
frogs. In addition, magazine covers featuring many of the boats he has painted are on
Dean got his start by skateboarding semi-professionally. The Indiana native
spent a couple of years in California with the likes of Tony Hawk before getting into
airbrushing T-shirts, which eventually led him back to Indiana. TAOD is known for their
outlandish paint schemes on some of the hottest boats on the water. He sprays
exclusively for Outerlimits, but does a lot of retail work on MTIs and Skaters.
TAOD is really a comprehensive art and design facility. These guys can handle
anything, from simple projects like creating banners and business cards to elaborately
painted murals on buses, boats and helicopters. He recently started his own
signature series of paint with Akzo Nobel Sikkens Paint. Dean has been working with
the company for several years to develop a wide variety of custom colors. This painting
is a sampling of the variety of colors that Dean has created for his unique line of paint.
Mark Hughes, his GM, keeps everything in the shop moving. The pair have been friends
since high school.
Tow rigs, gas tanks and helmets—there is no job too big or small. Dean’s philosophy is
refreshing, in that he never tries to get rich on a single job. He keep all 21 of his crew
working at the shop rate of $55 an hour.
TAOD is repainting the Superman II boat, giving it a new updated scheme; he’s also
painting the Superman III Outerlimits. Dean showed us a rendering of how the boat is
going to look.
While I was getting shots, Dean jumped into his bright orange Viper and drove down Rush
Court well in excess of 125 mph.
Driving straight at Earl, he hit the cul-de-sac
and began doing donuts on the pavement. Tread flew off the car. (This footage is going
to make superb B-roll for our video.) We wrapped the interview.
I needed to get back to the family, as they were stuck in the Merrillville hotel room. We
had to drive Blake and Blair back to O’Hare International.
Dean said we had to see his crib, and he was our ride back. We agreed, as it would only
take another 30 minutes. Upon entering the house, you immediately get it—he is an
artistic genius. One of the more notable creations was a sculpture of a frog holding a
skateboard, combining the past with the present.
There was a piece of artwork based on a $100 bill that Dean paintstakingly cut,
sanded and painted to showcase more of his special talents.
Additionally, he draws.
His fascination with frogs is apparently limitless. Another detailed piece of sculpted
three-dimensional artwork reveals the many levels of his artistic talent.
I called Dawnette and told her to put the boys in a cab. This was going to take
another three hours.
Downstairs, there's a design studio where he works late into the evening, creating some
of the world’s most unique designs. He showed us the detail in making a corporate
tour bus for Brassfield Estate Winery. Using the computer, he demonstrated in detail how
he had frosted the grapes and provided the 3-D effect for the customer.
While at TAOD, Dean had shown us a rendering of an amazing, painstakingly
drawn bed he had created in his head.
Seeing it in person was breathtaking. It must be a terrific conversation piece for the
opposite gender. This stellar piece of artwork looks like something the Imagineers
at Disney might have created. After Dean created the rendering, a Chicago-based
metal fabricator built the piece.
The heart with body parts coming out everywhere is surely a great conversation
piece for him and his female guests.
As we were about to leave, Dean—who is 45—showed us he still has it physically as
well. He stacked three skateboards atop each other and did a handstand down the
The flight back was quick. Afterwards, we hauled ass back to Merrillville to pick up
Dawnette and the little ones. We stopped by Gino’s Pizza again for Earl to get a taste of
Chicago, then showed him Al Capone’s old hangout on Michigan Avenue and the Wrigley
July 21: We visited Michael Schultz, president of Gaffrig Performance. His wife,
Mia, purchased doughnuts for the kids and went out of their way to line up the various
products that they manufacture.
Michael purchased the company from the widow of Jim Gaffrig, and is working hard to
reestablish the company’s product line and synergy. He had done his homework and had
laid out on benches the various gauges, shifter controls and steering wheels that they
distribute and manufacture. Lunchtime was fast approaching, so it was one of our
shorter interviews. We then raced from Huntley, IL, to Neenah, WI, to interview Joe
Zelinski, founder of Custom Marine Inc.
VP of Sales and Marketing Paul Cassata said we needed to be there by 3 p.m. to have
access to Joe, and we were more than 180 miles away. This was a slight detour from
our original itinerary, but we had met Paul the previous Friday, and had requested we
come up to the factory while in the Chicago area. This time slot was the only possibility.
CompX International, which purchased Livorsi Marine in 2006, then purchased CMI.
CMI has been the leader in stainless exhaust products for more than a decade.
Joe got his start at MerCruiser, and ventured out on his own in 1984, when he saw the
opportunity to build exhaust headers for engine builders, as well as custom
applications for boat builders. The company has flourished, and having Mercury Racing as
one of their biggest accounts hasn't hurt. Upon arrival, Joe was camera shy, but I had
to get him on camera. After getting the intro with Joe, we were introduced and were
instructed we would get the rest of our tour with Engineering Manager Mark Glodowski
and Operations Manager Bill Mahnke.
Because they're a publicly traded company—and work on many secretive
projects for MerCruiser and other clients—taking a guided tour through the
factory was almost a comical experience. We were cautioned to stay within the yellow
lines, and forbidden to venture into any real areas of production. The trio of men
continued to consult each other on what we could photograph and talk about on camera,
which became a little annoying at times—especially as we had driven a long
way to promote their company!
CMI builds some of the best stainless products on the planet, and due to the nature
of what they build and for whom, we finally had to accept the fact that we weren’t going
to get a complete factory tour.
Project Engineer Mark Blair walked us through some computer programming/design
work inside the offices. It was 5 p.m. when we finished. We drove four hours back to
O'Hare and swapped vehicles, as Budget didn’t want us to leave the Expedition in
Detroit. We grabbed a minivan and headed for Douglas, MI, arriving at 3 a.m.