Garfield County Community Corrections facility inmate builds model Harleys
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colorado ” Some inmates work out obsessively in prison to pass the time. Others just get into more trouble.
Steve Lehman built model Harley Davidson motorcycles out of Q-Tips, dental floss, cardboard and manila envelopes.
Lehman, an inmate at the Garfield County Community Corrections facility in Rifle, started building the painfully detailed models when he was in prison before entering community corrections. He’s a mechanic and welder by trade but said he got a 15-month prison sentence for driving under a revoked license and being a habitual traffic offender.
He’s done some motorcycle riding, but building models was mainly a way to pass the time and make some extra cash. He said the Department of Corrections only pays 60 cents for eight hours of work, but he’s sold 14 of his models for $150 each. One sold as prison art on eBay for $350, he added.
“I just was bored and decided to see if I could fabricate one,” Lehman said. “The first prototype wasn’t all that great.”
Each model takes about 60 hours to create.
“There’s over 500 pieces,” he said. “Every piece is hand-cut. The spokes are woven out of dental floss.”
Lehman also uses Elmer’s glue, scissors, a sewing needle, plus nail clippers to cut curves. The materials were all he could get in prison.
He paints the models with a water-based paint. He threads copper wire through hollow Q-Tip stems to give the bike’s frame extra support. He said he cut 60 circles of cardboard to form the bike’s engine. The gas tank was sculpted by cutting out 20 layers of cardboard, gluing them together and filing them down into smooth curves with a nail file. He scales down the bike to model size in his head and doesn’t use measurements.
People have started sending pictures of their Harleys and he’s copied some of the custom paint jobs. But Lehman says he only does it as a hobby and it would never work as a full-on business. He’s currently looking for a job as part of the community corrections program.
Lehman leaves almost no detail unfinished. The model bike’s drive belts are strips of manila envelope. He cuts out tiny strips and glues them across the inside of the belt to give the belt teeth. For the handlebars, he removes the cotton from a Q-Tip and slices down the side of it so he can unroll the paper stem until it’s skinny enough to suit his design.
To build the wheel’s rims, he has a specially crafted cardboard “jig.” In it he places the strip of manila envelope that will be the rim while he weaves two pieces of dental floss through 32 holes in the rim in a specific sequence. He twists the dental floss before coating it with glue to give the spokes and spark plug wire more detail.
Dental floss is flat and not round enough.
Lehman grew up in Grand Junction and has been working at maintaining equipment at a ranch in Gateway. He hopes to return to that job and live a quiet life and stay out of trouble once he’s out of community corrections in six months.
He said other inmates have asked him to teach them how to build the models, but he doesn’t have the patience. The guards back in state prison and now in the community corrections program in Rifle have also taken an interest.
“They love it,” he said. “The first thing they want to do is ask where I get the rubber belt, but it’s manila folder.”
Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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