Constable: West Chicago man finds purpose by repurposing junk into functional art

  • After his career as a maintenance man and welder, Randy Meyers starting fooling around with all the motorcycle gears, industrial gauges, copper pipes and other supplies he had accumulated. Now the West Chicago man sells steampunk lamps and one-of-a-kind greenhouses and sheds.

    After his career as a maintenance man and welder, Randy Meyers starting fooling around with all the motorcycle gears, industrial gauges, copper pipes and other supplies he had accumulated. Now the West Chicago man sells steampunk lamps and one-of-a-kind greenhouses and sheds. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • An imagination and desire for repurposing items that outlived their original purpose give Randy Meyers of West Chicago the opportunity to make steampunk lamps.

    An imagination and desire for repurposing items that outlived their original purpose give Randy Meyers of West Chicago the opportunity to make steampunk lamps. Courtesy of Bruce Rohr Photography

  • Seeing the possibilities in items that many people would consider junk, Randy Meyers crafts steampunk lamps, greenhouses and sheds out of things he has accumulated in his sprawling West Chicago garage.

    Seeing the possibilities in items that many people would consider junk, Randy Meyers crafts steampunk lamps, greenhouses and sheds out of things he has accumulated in his sprawling West Chicago garage. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Using items from the vast collection of gadgets he's collected during his career, Randy Meyers of West Chicago repurposed old car parts and pipes to make this lamp.

    Using items from the vast collection of gadgets he's collected during his career, Randy Meyers of West Chicago repurposed old car parts and pipes to make this lamp. Courtesy of Bruce Rohr Photography

  • It takes vision and a lot of labor to turn rusty old gears into functional art, says Randy Meyers.

    It takes vision and a lot of labor to turn rusty old gears into functional art, says Randy Meyers. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Randy Meyers of West Chicago sees ways to repurpose remnants salvaged from cars, machines and antiques.

    Randy Meyers of West Chicago sees ways to repurpose remnants salvaged from cars, machines and antiques. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/27/2021 6:19 AM

Sitting in a booth at a flea market in Woodstock, Randy Meyers knew he had made something pretty cool. He just didn't know what it was.

"The lady in the booth next to me saw my four lamps and said, 'That's steampunk,'" remembers Meyers, who numbers and dates each of the nearly 400 lamps he's made. "I had never heard of that."

 

So he did an online search for steampunk, and, sure enough, the definition of something that incorporates old technology to create something out of science fiction or fantasy was a good description of his lamps made mostly from old gears and gauges.

"I used to collect Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and when you have motorcycles, you have parts," says Meyers, 61, whose sprawling house and garage in West Chicago give him plenty of room to store industrial equipment, old car parts, vintage tin cans, plumbing pipes, an antique chicken-feeder, pistons, and cone-shaped speakers from old Victrola record players. He transforms some of those speakers into cellphone holders that twist the modern sound through the old speakers.

"It gives it just the right sound," Meyers says as he plays Dixieland jazz through one contraption. "And if you get a phone call, you can talk into the horn and answer it."

In addition to lamps and speakers, Meyers builds unique greenhouses and furniture, all made with recycled items he comes across. He once made a bar out of the back end of an old yacht he bought. He also has a pilot's license, used to own and operate a backhoe, and serves as road manager for the local Burning Bridges rock band.

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"I've got to keep busy," he says as he shows off pieces made with a bicycle brake pad, an antique can of Superior Graphited Spring Oil made in Galena, a solid walnut baluster from a Rockford courthouse, an Offenhauser cast aluminum valve cover from a Chevy 409, and a miniature skeleton, who cranks gears on one lamp.

"It takes a vision, and labor," the tinkerer says. Always good with his hands, Meyers graduated from West Chicago Community High School in 1978 with a background in the industrial arts and continued his education with classes in machinery and welding. Now retired, Meyers made a career working in maintenance for DuPage County and welding for the city of Wheaton.

He uses his airplane hangar to build greenhouses and sheds. The first greenhouse he built, he put online one morning at 9. By 10 a.m., he had a potential buyer, who came to see it at noon, paid for it by 1 p.m. and Meyers delivered it by 3 p.m.

"Another one of them went to Lake Geneva as a fishing shanty," says Meyers, who notes it was converted into a fancy outdoor dining space instead. He's built 13 greenhouses so far and has more in the works.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I love building them," Meyers says. "But I build them with the material I have."

Living in a house four blocks from where he grew up, Meyers has a 3-car garage filled with interesting objects he's picked up.

"It's just supplies I would save. I tried to make it all American, things that were made in America," Meyers says.

He once bought a bucket of marine salvage recovered from Lake Michigan just because he liked the bucket. It came with an assortment of springs and valves. "I bought the whole pile from him because it was cool, and I made three lamps," Meyers remembers.

His simplest lamps, which often use Edison bulbs, hood ornaments, pipe fittings, mechanical dials and other machine parts, start at $50. One of his larger, more complicated lamps was bought for $800 by a collector in Rhode Island. Another one "ended up in a pizzeria down by Midway," Meyers says. He is working on one in his airplane hanger now that has four lamps on one side mounted on a fire hydrant and stands 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

He created a buzz the first time he took one of his pieces to the Chicagoland Show featuring pinball machines, coin-operated devices, jukeboxes and other remnants of the past.

"People will stand there just flabbergasted," Meyers says. "People are floored. They say, 'Why?' Well, why not? It's better than sitting around watching TV."

During one show at Pheasant Run, "I sold 31 lamps in two hours," Meyers says.

Seeing the promise in a dilapidated yacht, Meyers cut off the back end and converted it into a bar with a seating area that was purchased by a rich guy who uses it in his oceanfront mansion in Avalon, New Jersey.

Meyers works on several projects at a time -- from the desk lamp he's crafting from a 1957 Chevy dashboard to one that uses a gravity-driven gear from a 19th-century washing machine. Even his failures get repurposed.

"Not all lights make it," Meyers admits. "So I take my lamp apart and make a new lamp."

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