Eureka Times-Standard article about the Kinetic Kompendium, by Heather Shelton

Read the Eureka Times-Standard Story on Kinetic Kompendium 4/22/2018 by Heather Shelton online,, or below. 

New book: ‘Kinetic Kompendium’

By Heather Shelton,

Dawn Thomas and other teammates are pictured in Ferndale in 2014 with “Trikasaurus/Jankosaurus.”

walking jankosaurus into ferndale

Photo by Peter Wagner

Middle school art teacher Dawn Thomas of Santa Rosa participated in her first Kinetic Grand Championship in Humboldt County four years ago.

“After my first race in 2014, I looked on Amazon for a book on the Kinetic Sculpture Race,” said Thomas, who found two books in her search — “Crazy Contraptions” by Stan Bennett and Larry Eifert, which came out in 1975, and “Kinetic Sculpture Racing” by Hobart Brown and John Wilson in 1990.

“I bought both,” she said, “and read through them. I guess they helped form the basis of what I wanted to do, especially because there were no color photos,” she said.

Thomas decided to use her background in art and design to create a book with vivid images that chronicled the flamboyant history of the race.

“I imagined a big, beautiful coffee table book with lots of photos,” she said. “Anyhow, I couldn’t find anything like that, so I decided to put it together myself.”

Thomas’ “Kinetic Kompendium: 50 Years of Kinetic Sculpture Racing” is a 600-page, full-color book that contains essays and interviews with past and present pilots, pit crew, Rutabaga Queens, spectators, judges and many others involved or enthralled with the race and all of its glory. This year’s race — being dubbed the “50th Solid Gold Annual Race” — takes place May 26 to 28. The event kicks off at noon on the Arcata Plaza and wraps up Monday in Ferndale.

“Bill Beers wrote some great essays about the race for the book. Bob Doran also,” Thomas said. “Larry Eifert wrote a few pieces about what things were like during the first races and in Ferndale with Hobart and Jack (Mays) and Jim Ottaway, Joe Koches and all the other early racers. Elliot Naess wrote a piece on ‘How to Build a Kinetic Sculpture.’”

The book also includes info about and images of many of the most memorable machines — like the Quagmire Queen, Bionic Blue Coach and Robocroc, to name a very few — as well as race results from the past five decades. It also features newly unearthed photos, reproductions and ephemera from the three-day race, which sees human-powered machines travel from Arcata to Ferndale over land, sand and water every Memorial Day weekend.

“This ‘Kompendium’ is primarily a historical document that will preserve the rich history of the Kinetic Sculpture Race in one source,” said Thomas, who did research for the book over three years, using the internet as her primary source of information.

“A lot of my research on race results came from archived Eureka Times-Standards,” Thomas said. “But basically, I just started telling folks involved with the race that I wanted to put this book together, and asking permission from the Kinetic Universe and Hobart’s family. Folks were really cautious at first, but once I got started and was sharing photos and stories on Facebook, doors began to open. I tracked a lot of people down with (Goddess) Jen-O’s help. She has been involved with the race for 30-plus years and has email contacts for tons of folks. She also kept careful records of the race results and created a spreadsheet that we worked on together as I did my research to fill in the blanks.

“Facebook was incredibly useful for me,” Thomas added. “I could post photos on the book’s page and share them out and ask question about them. Folks would get involved in the conversation and then I would track them down and ask more questions.”

Thomas also made several trips to Humboldt County to do research at the Ferndale Museum, Humboldt State University Library, Humboldt County Historical Society and Kinetic Museum in Eureka. She also talked to a host of past and present participants.

“I got to go through boxes of Hobart’s photos and ephemera, which are housed at an old friend’s home,” Thomas said. “I brought my scanner everywhere and would just start scanning everything … I traveled a lot to get to folks who moved out to places like Grass Valley, in order to get to look through their albums and boxes. There are, however, many more boxes that I would like to go through to get the complete story.”

The tale of the Kinetic Sculpture Race began 49 years ago in Ferndale.

“We all know the story where Hobart took apart his son’s tricycle and improved it to make the Pentacycle. Jack Mays wandered over and challenged him to a race, said he could make something better, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The cross-country version of the race, the progenitor of the race we have now, was also begun with a challenge. The Ferndale Explorers Club challenged Hobart to an all-terrain race in 1974.”

Today, the event attracts local folks as well as people from around the country and the world and has been covered by many media sources, from Smithsonian Magazine to “Good Morning America.”

Thomas got involved in the Kinetic Grand Championship four years ago with a machine called “Trikasaurus/Jankosaurus.”

“The experience was life changing,” she said. “Coming up the ramp after the first water crossing, one of our wheels broke off and we had to attach first a bike trailer, then a bike to the back of our vehicle to prop it up so we could take turns pedaling the one remaining independent drive, but we made it to Ferndale under our own power.”

She added: “One thing not in the story was that when we were paddling across the mouth of the Eel River where it feeds into the Humboldt Bay, our flotation was starting to deflate, which is a classic event on the cold water. I had my old wedding ring from my divorce in my pocket and, as an offering to the sea gods, I threw it into the bay. It was an impulsive act, but we got across all right.

“After we rolled into Ferndale,” Thomas said, “I was so relieved to have finished the race that I found a porta potty and had a good cry. I was just overwhelmed. It was so damn glorious and I was so happy that we had done it, especially missing one back wheel and drive train for most of the race … Everyone was so nice to us, and we were hooked.”

Thomas — who has raced every year since — will be returning to Humboldt County next month for the 2018 Kinetic Grand Championship, which marks the 50th race held in Humboldt County.

“This race will be my fifth race,” Thomas said. “… Our team is called Team Pineapple. 2014 we were Trikeasaurus. 2015 we were Pineapple Express. 2016 we were Pinas Luchadoras. 2017 we were Painnapuru, ‘Best Friends.’ This year, we will be Cal-Trans.”

Thomas’ “Kinetic Kompendium” will be available to purchase at the May 25 “Fri Kinetics Pageantry Thrills Party” at the Arcata Community Center.

“I will also have books available at the awards dinner at the Ferndale Fairgrounds on Monday evening (May 28),” she said. “We are trying to put together a table at the Rutabaga Ball, and I am hoping to get some books on the Kinetic Universe merchandise tables during the race.”

The book — available in hardcover and paperback — can also be purchased on Thomas’ website,, or on Amazon.


“Kinetic Kompendium: 50 Years of Kinetic Sculpture Racing” is Dawn Thomas’ first book. Courtesy of Dawn Thomas



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