Lance Greathouse does not follow football. It wasn't until last fall, at an Arizona Cardinals game, that the Phoenix dental-laser repairman, who harbors a severe DIY robot-building habit, was introduced to the art of tailgating. There, he spotted cars packed with grills, plasma screens, refrigerators and more. "But I never saw anything that was all-in-one," he recalls. So he decided to create the ultimate tailgating rig: a fire-spewing, beer-chilling machine that he can drive from one parking-lot party to the next.
When Greathouse thinks up a project, whether it's an electric wheelchair with faux machine guns or a talking remote-control robot with a skeleton's head and torso, he doesn't start with sketches or computer-aided design. He dives right into fabrication. For the tailgate rig, he started by gathering the parts: a used grill from Craigslist, an inexpensive wine refrigerator, a discarded flat-screen monitor, an electric wheelchair, and a whole mess of steel tubing and steel plates. Once he imagined how it could all come together, he built a frame out of steel. He set the wheelchair's driving wheels at one end and freely spinning wheels at the other and fit a joystick that drives the rig into a recessed panel above the fridge.
The grill and fridge sit at opposite ends, and Greathouse installed the controls for the electronic components in between. The rig has neon light effects on the front, a satellite stereo, an MP3 player, 250-watt speakers, a camera that displays tailgaters on the TV screen, and a second camera that relays a video feed of what's cooking under the grill hood to a laptop. For fun, he added a steel cylinder that shoots fireballs into the air. A battery-powered inverter runs it all when there isn't an available generator to plug into.
Greathouse has used the rig in a friend's backyard, but he is eager to show it off at a game. When he does, he won't be sitting still. "Instead of being stuck in one place," he says, "I'll take the party wherever I want."
Time: 4 months