It’s far from the first do-it-yourself show on TV, but “Brainstormers” may be the first to combine DIY projects, weather and a green sensibility: Their projects reuse and repurpose junkyard materials.
Premiering March 22 on The Weather Channel, the series follows a trio of backyard inventors as they solve weather-related problems, showing the builds step by step. These include making a wind turbine sturdier, fashioning a "swamp cooler" with hoses and a bucket, improving the function of a "hay bus" baler for a farmer, making a honey extractor for a beekeeper from an old washing machine motor and spinner, and turning a satellite dish into a solar heater (shown at right, below).
Each episode also features a weather-related quiz and a “weather hack,” a useful tip on things like fixing hazy headlights with a baking soda and water paste and preventing windshield ice buildup with a vinegar and water solution.
Meet the team
The brains behind the Colorado-based “Brainstormers” are retired farmer Rob “Poppy” Parker, a genius tinkerer who’s been inventing stuff for more than 30 years, his idea-guy son Ryan, and tech wizard Bill LeVasseur, Ryan’s best friend and an Air Force F-16 Crew Chief-turned-actor/host.
It all began with a program that Ryan Parker started with LeVasseur seven and half years ago called Backyard Genius, “a result of my experiences growing up on a farm and seeing first-hand how my mother and father built things out of necessity,” says Parker. “Bill and I traveled around the country spotlighting invention heroes and how their innovative creations made a difference to folks in their communities. One thing led to another and we turned BYG into a small company. The Weather Channel thought this would be a good show that is educational and fun.”
Their relationship dates back even longer, when they teamed up in the Baja 1000 desert race in 2005 and 2006 and various home remodeling projects. Hanging out with his buddy aside, “My favorite part is being able to help those who can't help themselves,” says LeVasseur.
“'Backyard Genius' provides us an opportunity to come up with creative inventions for others as well as ourselves. In the end, we hopefully inspire others to be proactive and resourceful with what they have no matter where they come from,” says Parker, who is guided by an important directive. “Since we are all affected by Mother Nature, our mission for ‘Brainstormers’ as well as for our own company is to build inventions to combat and overcome the weather in addition to harnessing its power to do good — while on a budget.”
“It is very important to be able to use repurposed materials because our clients’ budgets are tight and junk is aplenty,” adds LeVassuer.
And as Parker points out, “There are 1001 different ways to build something, but our goal is to create an invention that is novel, simple and repurposed from something else. It ingenuity and resourcefulness at its finest, and something we really have fun doing.” He also believes, “We should be not only our ‘brothers keeper,’ but also stewards of our resources. I think we owe it to our families, country and planet to make the most of what we have so that those with less might have more.”
Parker, Parker and LeVasseur build a honeybee extractor. (Photo: The Weather Channel)
The most challenging projects
Clients find the Backyard Geniuses through word of mouth, and they select projects “based on our abilities, timeframe, and budget,” says LeVasseur.
“We can usually build something for less than it costs to purchase brand new,” adds Parker.
Of the projects included in the series, Parker found the aforementioned hay bus the most challenging, especially since they had only two days to do it. The most difficult was a water wheel hydropower project, for which they had limited funds and fought cold weather. For LeVasseur, the most unusual task was building an ATV for a paraplegic client.
Most of the time, “There was not much time to do a proper test before building the invention,” he says, adding, “The biggest challenge was “usually getting the three of us to agree on a plan.”
Even when they do, not everything goes smoothly. “There is always a point when a project stumps us and we get frustrated — that's just part of inventing,” says Parker. “Time is always the biggest obstacle, because when we are forced to design things with minimal time, it can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. But this can also lead to some crazy last-minute breakthroughs that I like to call ‘accidentally perfect.’"
In addition to the 25 inventions presented over the series’ eight episodes, a lot of the fun of “Brainstormers” is watching the three very different personalities interact.
Poppy is a true character, “a salt of the earth kind of guy who speaks his mind and doesn't care what other people think because he is always real,” says his son. “He loves duct tape and sometimes does things that are unconventional and less than beautiful in my eyes. I take pride in making an invention not just function well, but look good too.”
LeVasseur, who has “been tinkering since he could walk” and has done everything from LEGO competitions to rebuilding cars and homes, describes himself as a quick thinker. "Once we decide to brainstorm, I have 10-20 ideas pop up in my head and I start to build in my head right away. It's a blessing and a curse.”
“He has so many ideas that it's sometimes hard to keep them all straight,” Parker says of his tech-loving friend. “Since his mind moves a million miles an hour, I've learned to step up or step out since Bill has ADHD and works super fast. He can be a little overwhelming.”
Parker marvels over how much his company has grown, “a true testament to ‘never give up.’ I want audiences to realize that a backyard genius or inventor can be anybody from anywhere.”
He believes “Brainstormers” will encourage people of all ages and demographics to start a variety of projects for themselves as well as others. "I'm hopeful that we can recharge people to make a difference,” and inspire them to “discover a new purpose and appreciation for life by making the most of what they have.”
For LeVasseur, the takeaway message is clear: “If three monkeys in a shop in Colorado can do it, they probably can too! My dad never told me I wasn't able to do something, so I always try. Hopefully this encourages audiences,” he says, “but not so much they start their own TV show!"
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