BOY MEETS WELD | 12 Year-Old Wunderkind

Discussion in 'General Fabrication' started by El Jefe, Dec 17, 2015.

  1. El Jefe

    El Jefe Advanced User Staff Member

    Dec 1, 2015
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    – By Jeff Herrington/ Photography by Andrew Thomas Lee –

    When we think of teaching, we usually think of school buildings, classrooms packed with dozens of students and 50-minute lessons punctuated by a long-awaited bell. But some of the most famous teachers in history have passed along knowledge in a much more personal way, one protégé at a time. Socrates guided Plato on his exploration of what it meant to lead a virtuous life. Annie Sullivan showed Helen Keller how Braille could help her read and write. And University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith counseled John Thompson, Jr., his counterpart at Georgetown University, on the fine art of winning a national championship.

    Bryan Fuller, the force behind Fuller Moto in Atlanta and the host of Naked Speed on the Velocity Channel, has taken the same approach with 12-year-old Zeke DeZeeuw. Since their first meeting at a motorsports festival two years ago, the master builder of custom cars and motorcycles has become the unofficial mentor of the young Texas boy who’s gaining recognition as a whiz kid with a welding torch.

    “It’s really gratifying to show someone how to do a weld right,” Fuller says, “and then hear them say, ‘Wow, I did that! I didn’t know I could do that, but I can!’”


    It’s a muggy, sultry, summer day in Atlanta. Fuller, Zeke DeZeeuw and his father, Patrick DeZeeuw, are huddling over a worktable inside theFuller Moto shop just east of downtown. The Eagles are singing “Peaceful Easy Feeling” on a radio somewhere, and nearby, someone is hammering on a piece of metal non-stop. Zeke has finished marking some measurements on a piece of cardboard that’s meant to be the template for the aluminum that will cover the fuel tank of a motorcycle they’re building. Fuller picks up the cardboard, wags it at Zeke and asks, “Now that you’ve traced the outline for the template, what do you do next?” Zeke looks to one side in search of the right answer.

    “Attach it to the wire frame of the tank?” he responds.

    The master builder drops his head and shakes it, wearing a look that is part grin and part smirk. “No! You double-check your measurements,” he answers. “We always double-check our measurements before we move to the next step.” Patrick DeZeeuw steps forward and nods in solemn agreement with their host. “You know what they say, Zeke: measure once, cut twice,” his father intones, intentionally skewing the famous adage to make an important point with his son.

    The half-built motorcycle resting on the stand behind them represents a gntlemen’s agreement of sorts that the trio struck some time back. Two years ago, when Fuller and the DeZeeuws met at the Barber Vintage Festival in Alabama, Fuller became smitten with a Honda CB200 that Zeke and his father had rebuilt back in Texas. But Zeke refused to give up Lucky (the name he bestowed upon the bike), despite the fact that the celebrity had just given him an awesome TIG welding lesson. So Fuller invited the DeZeeuws to spend a week in Atlanta to tap into his tricked-out studio and extensive expertise and build a bike from the ground up. Fuller’s payoff? At the end of the week, he could keep whatever motorcycle got built.

    What would prompt the 44-year-old television star and Kid Rock fanboy to offer the learning opportunity of a lifetime to an unknown youngster living four states away? Is it because Fuller himself apprenticed for three years in his early thirties in the shop of industry legend Chip Foose of Southern California, and he sees this as a chance to pay the debt forward? Is it because Fuller is now the father of a five-year-old, so he’s more concerned about equipping the next generation with the perspective and values they’ll need to succeed?

    Or maybe it’s because the author, designer and master builder rarely stumbles upon a prodigy with the innate talent and attitude of Zeke DeZeeuw.


    “Most of the people I meet at welding festivals are older, stuck in their ways and not terribly interested in broadening their knowledge,” Fuller says. “Zeke doesn’t have any preconceived notions about how to do things, and he shows an extraordinary level of focus and commitment to building bikes for someone his age. He really stands out.”

    Truth is, Zeke DeZeeuw has always stood out. When he was six, he took his first solo ride on a motorcycle, a Suzuki DS80 equipped with a two-stroke engine. He mounted the bike, zoomed off and drove full-speed into a neighbor’s fence. Only two years later, he announced he was ready to build a motorcycle. Just five months later – and with the help of his father and several amazed adults on some online motorcycle forums – Zeke had finished Lucky and was tooling around his neighborhood on it.

    “Zeke is a tactile person,” says his father. “No, let me rephrase that. He’s a destroyer. One day when he was little, I walked into our house to find he had completely taken apart our family computer.”

    Turns out, Zeke can be a resourceful parts curator as well as a destroyer. When he was building his second bike (named Victoria) for Fuller’s Naked Speed program, he wanted to equip it with premium Öhlins shocks. But his father nixed them as too expensive. So Zeke hunted down the name of the company’s president, called him, somehow got past the president’s gatekeepers and pled his case for a set of shocks. Sure enough, a set arrived a few days later. So, too, did a set from one of Öhlins biggest competitors, whose president Zeke had ALSO telephoned on the sly.

    That was one of the first times Fuller decided to exert his role as Zeke’s mentor.

    “You can’t do that,” he chided Zeke. “If you want to be taken seriously in this business, you have to protect your integrity at all costs.” Fuller urged Zeke to call the competitor, apologize and promise them that a check for their shocks was on its way.

    “And that was when I knew I could definitely trust Bryan with my son,” his father says.

    But for every time the 12-year-old pulls a Dennis the Menace act, there are ten instances of him being amazingly considerate, or behaving like Zeke the Geek. As he prepares to pound on a piece of sheet metal, he suggests to a bystander he might want to don some earplugs. When his father says he wants to ask one of Fuller’s employees for help with the fuel tank template he’s working on, Zeke shakes his head and says, “Leave it there, Dad. I’ll do it.”

    And then there’s the geeky way he came up with the name for the bike they’re all building that week at Fuller Moto.


    “I had this dream about trapezoids,” Zeke says, “so I thought it would be cool if we included them in the design of the brake drum. Then the tires came in, and the spokes formed trapezoid shapes as well. That’s when I knew I wanted to name the motorcycle ZOÖID.”

    Which pleases his father to no end. “ZOÖID” is Greek for an organized body that has independent movement within a bigger living organism,” says Patrick. “I think that perfectly describes our relationship with Fuller Moto this week.”

    An explanation of Greek etymology may not be what you’d expect from a suburban landscaper, but it’s par for the course for Patrick DeZeeuw. Although he’s a true-blue Texan who craves good TexMex and travels the nation’s backroads to find the country’s most bodacious barbecue, he’s also the quintessential Renaissance man who cites the poetry of Michelangelo one moment, the lyrics of Wilco the next. The family name, DeZeeuw, means “of the sea” in Dutch, so his daughter’s name is, of course, Ariel (as in the title character of the popular Disney film The Little Mermaid). Then there’s the family motto, which appears on each bike Zeke builds and on the door of the claustrophobic workshop situated behind their home outside Dallas.

    “Our motto is, ‘Luctor et Emergo.’ ‘I struggle and I emerge’,” Patrick says. “It’s the motto of the state of Zeeland in the Netherlands, but it’s also the philosophy I want my kids to carry with them throughout life.”

    Having worked 33 years for one of the premier landscapers in the Dallas area, Patrick says he understands better than most how valuable a good mentor can be to someone just learning the ropes.

    “You know, Fuller is such a paradox,” he says. “He comes off all cool and low-key, but in fact he’s a much better communicator than I am. Usually, he explains the ‘why’ of something to Zeke before Zeke feels a need to ask ‘why’.”

    Zeke agrees that Fuller possesses several traits that make him a terrific person to learn from.


    “Normally, you have to be quiet and dialed in to whatever a teacher is saying,” he says. “But Bryan makes learning really fun. Like, he sometimes makes these loud noises when he is grinding something. And he doesn’t solve a problem for you – he teases you into solving it. For example, he told me all I needed to calculate the center line of the fuel tank was its front width, rear width and length. But then he made me figure out the rest of it.

    “Working here this week has helped me develop my mental toughness and integrity. I’ve definitely learned that you have to work really late sometimes to get a project out on time. We’ve probably used 100 times the skills building ZOÖID here than we used to build Lucky.”

    At the end of the marathon week, the trio has finished ZOÖID and Zeke has hit upon an idea for yet another project he might undertake when he’s Fuller’s age.

    “Who knows if I’ll be building motorcycles then?” Zeke wonders. “I may be building computers, or even airplanes. However, I know now I’d love to have a shop where people of all ages – but especially younger people – pay a subscription to learn from me and use my tools to build whatever they want. I’d give them the down-and-dirty, hands-on building experience they couldn’t get anywhere else.”

    Meanwhile, Fuller has a gleaming new custom motorcycle to call his own. And a byproduct of that process is the gratification of knowing he has helped instill some important lessons about life and work in someone who could succeed him not that long from now.

    “I see so many parallels between the building world and real life,” Fuller says. “I hope I showed Zeke not just the importance of doing a weld right but that patience, technique, teamwork, paying attention to detail and sticking to a budget all are important to our success.

    “And, that we always have some master to please, no matter what.”


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