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Woodworking Shop on Wheels

By on September 1, 2016
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Downtime Provides Opportunity to Exercise Creativity

Some woodworkers have spacious garages or basement workshops in which to carve their artistic creations.

Brian Matthews has the cab of his Mack Bulldog Black Max truck.

When his day is done, or he’s waiting to load or unload, or is down for a 34-hour reset, Brian pulls out his Exacto® knives, other tools and whatever project he’s working on at the moment. “My creativity occupies my downtime,” he says. He’s usually on the road for three to four weeks at a time and able to engage in his hobby three to four hours per day.

What occupies his time could be a translation of one of his drawings into an engraving carved on a board, or it could be a model of a boat or a truck. “Pretty soon, though, the cab looks like a wood shop when I’m done,” he laughs. “It gets a little messy, but I clean it up every day. I have a thing about keeping my home away from home clean.”

Having earned his CDL at age 21, Brian has been driving for 16 years, the last three on flatbed and step-deck line hauls for E.W. Wylie Corp. out of its Houston terminal. “I’ve been drawing since my youth,” he says. “Drawing is something I did when I was bored. I never took classes. Growing up in a tough neighborhood in New Orleans, it kept me out of trouble.”

3D Added

Brian made the jump to three-dimensional versions of his drawings during his early years working on Gulf Coast tugs and towboats, primarily as an able seaman, navigator and deck hand. An engineer, on a boat he was working on, saw one of his drawings and asked if Brian could make a model of it. A captain of a vessel Brian was crewing on liked the model so well, he paid $8,000 for it.

Brian later made the switch to onshore freight transportation, because “I always wanted my own truck,” but ships, not surprisingly, continued to figure prominently in his projects. He’s made a six-foot-long replica of the paddle wheeler Natchez. That one, he says, was stowed between the seats of his truck, when he wasn’t working on it.

Preferred materials are balsa for ease of shaping, basswood for structural integrity and plywood for bases and decking. Brian takes great pride in a recently completed project, the blue and white M/V Barbra D. This project was initiated by special request for Don Daseke, Chairman, President and CEO of Daseke, Inc., the largest owner of flatbed, open-deck and specialized trucking capacity in North America and the parent company of E.W. Wylie.

Brian’s portfolio also includes a large model of a towboat for river barges decked out in the black-and-gold colors of the New Orleans Saints (his mother, a Saints fan, has that one). And yes, he’s done trucks, including a six-foot model of a Peterbilt (complete with Caterpillar engine) and trailer.

A boat can take as long as six months to complete, depending on the complexity of the project and how much time Brian has to devote to it. Some of his woodworking creations are more two-dimensional, like a panel with a Parisian scene or another depicting a family of tigers. His charcoal sketches can start with something as basic as an image called up on his smart phone.

Evolution of a Hobbyist

Brian has lots of ideas for developing his hobby and further broadening his creative horizons. He has a Facebook page and hopes to build a website to display and sell his creations. He’s even working on a screenplay for a movie that will include some of his models (plus some radio-controlled trucks that he’s accessorizing and modifying). He’s also proud that his artistic and modeling endeavors are being passed on to the next generation. His son, now 12, recently completed his first model airplane.wood2

Brian is well-known throughout the Wylie Family. “He has a wide range of talents from building remote-control steam boats, tug boats, semi trucks and ships from scratch, to sketching free-hand and writing multi-genre screen plays. Brian’s ability continues to amaze us,” says Noah Avon, an account manager with Wylie. “Brian exemplifies the ‘Wylie Tough’ mantra with the dedication and professionalism he demonstrates through his creative outlets and his outstanding driving.”

Even out on the road, where Brian’s recent hauls have taken him up the Eastern Seaboard to Maine and as far
north as Minnesota, word of his abilities has spread. He remembers one trip during which another driver spotted one of his projects. By the time he got to Wylie’s North Dakota terminal, people were asking to see what he was working on.

But it’s not the recognition or sales that keep Brian wood3working at his hobby. Constant improvement, he says, is the goal. “It’s a challenge to see how my work will turn out; to see how well I can take a concept to a drawing and
ultimately to a wood model. If one model I make is nice, the goal is to make the next one even nicer.”

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