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The Van Jones Show

People on a Mission. Aired 9-10p ET.

Aired June 04, 2015 - 21:00   ET




MIKE ROWE, "SOMEBODY'S GOTTA DO IT" HOST: I'm Mike Rowe. And I'm on a mission to find people on a mission.

Boom, from a scale of one to 10, how much do you like what you do?


ROWE: Here we go.

What are they doing?

Fricking out.

How are they doing it, and why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love to make things that make people smile.

ROWE: It's very fricking exciting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on Mike, we got to get it.

ROWE: I dare you to turn the channel.

On this episode...

Holy crap.

I see just how low I can go.

Is this normal?

With a couple of brothers who take motor modification to news heights.

And then...

I'm making a guitar.

I dig up the roots of musical Mississippi, when I learn the art of the homemade cigar box guitar.

And that's perfect... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) perfect.

ROWE: No, I nailed it.

And later...

That wanna made in the USA.

Just hard how hard is it to mass produce a high quality bubble head at an affordable price in the good old USA, pretty hard actually.

You made me look smarter.

Americans are bit obsess with cars since the first model (inaudible) rolled off to the assembly line.

In Southern California, that obsession is a way of life.

This is Paramount, California, the working class neighborhood that sits between the 105, 710 and 91 Freeways.

Here, that American car obsession takes the form of the lowrider.

Can we go for a ride?

Paramount is home to Homies Hydraulics where brothers Anthony and Ralph Fuentes have been hopping out legendary lowriders for over 30 years.

So Duke (ph), and Anthony, and Ralph, between them, know everything there is to know about lowriders. We're going to take a little cruise. By the time we get to wherever it is we're going. You will too.

ANTHONY FUENTES, OWNER, HOMIES HYDRAULICS: You have been on lowrider before?

ROWE: You know...

DUKE GARCIA, LOWRIDER ENTHUSIAST: Is this your first time in a lowrider?

ROWE: I think it is.


ROWE: I got to be honest, I'm just kind of thinking about it. It seems like it's something I should have been...

GARCIA: No wonder you put your seatbelt only in first time.

ROWE: Jimmy Garcia also known as Duke is the rock on tour of the Paramount lowrider scene. HE knows regular contest that show off the looks and bounce of these cars.

Is this normal? GARCIA: It is normal.

ROWE: Is it?

GARCIA: Yeah. It's how we do (inaudible), you know.

A. FUENTES: That's why you need the seatbelt.

ROWE: Yeah, you know what? The seatbelt for the first time in a while is finally coming to an end.

GARCIA: Don't break enough (ph).

ROWE: Don't break enough (ph). When you say that like he broke stuff before.

A. FUENTES: Oh, yeah.

GARCIA: Oh, yeah. I take my care to the shop almost every week.

ROWE: So when do the scene become a scene? Ho it start?

RAPLH FUENTES, OWNER, HOMIES HYDRAULICS: There are several stories. I mean, as far as the first hydraulics going into a car...

ROWE: Yeah.

R. FUENTES: That was back in the 1950's, '58. A guy by name of Ron Aguirre lifted a car for a show, it was called the X-sonic.

ROWE: The X-sonic?

R. FUENTES: And I was dub to be the first car with hydraulics.

ROWE: He did (inaudible) of practical purpose or what it always about flash?

R. FUENTES: Well, it started goes that Ron was getting tired of getting ticker, because his car was too low, and having problems getting in and out to driveways, so that was one of the ways that he came up with his obvious problem.

ROWE: And why would the cars so low in the first place? Because of burgeoning Mexican-American middle class in L.A. created their own distinctive brand of car culture.

The zoot suiters of the 1930s got attention by placing sandbags in the trunks, and cruising the neighborhood at street scrapping levels. Even a young Cesar Chavez was rolling around in his family's lowered 1940 Chevy, long before he founded the United Farm Workers.

So are they legal everywhere in the country?

A. FUENTES: It depends where you go. Some state, it's legal, some state it's not.

[21:05:00] ROWE: What's the actual law you're breaking, if you're breaking a law?

A. FUENTES: Kits (ph) suspension, 25002. That could be a good code.

ROWE: You're jealous, aren't you? You're jealous.

Yeah. Showing off this kind of a points of the lowrider, throughout the '60s and '70' Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles was a perpetual auto show with the lowest of the low cars where a high point of pride. Lowriders have been a staple of pop culture every since including a driving scene right here in Paramount.

So how is it work? I want a lowrider. I come to you and I say here's my car, put in some hydraulics, you'll make it for me or?

R. FUENTES: (Inaudible) add some wheels and some hydraulics and you got a lowrider.

ROWE: Just like that?

R. FUENTES: Just like that, it can be done in a day.

ROWE: So we're here.

A. FUENTES: This is our shop. Yes, come on in. Oh, this is my nephew's car, Vincent.


ROWE: Vincent, so you're nephew?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nephew. Ralph's son.

ROWE: Ralph son, your nephew. I got it.

First of all what kind of car...

A. FUENTES: Anyone.

ROWE: Anyone do you agree on (ph), all right. So it is basically runs off speaker's right.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah I'll speaker power.

ROWE: So this is though is where all of it happens, in the trunks essentially.


ROWE: Essentially.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the heart of the hydraulic and the trunk.

ROWE: It's pretty simple really. The driver flips a switch which causes pumps in the truck to send pressure to the pistons which in turn right the car lift up and down like a jumping bean on hot cement. No one does it better than this guys. They've already been in triumph and the lowrider hall of fame.

Where is the lowrider hall of fame?

R. FUENTES: Lowrider hall of fame is meant to the Lowrider Magazine. They choose the hall of fame every year and I was one of the nominees for lifetime contribution.

ROWE: Congratulations.

R. FUENTES: Thank you. See, this is a fine magazine. The Lowrider Magazine, they're lot of very pretty girls in the lowrider culture.

R. FUENTES: Yes, yes.

ROWE: Really are.

R. FUENTES: Well, when you show up your car you, you know, the girl, pretty girls kind of come with it they just help adoring.

ROWE: Also beautiful I'm so sorry we can't show it to you we have to blur it out we couldn't find her. We call to get the information but good grief. My God, we're in upgrade. Oh, it's totally different. It's hard to know what we're talking about the girls when we're talking about the cars.


ROWE: Because this one has an extraordinary front end.

If I'm going to earn any points at all with the lowrider ladies, I've got to learn to get my hop on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's basic to it to the up front, back, left corner, right corner. So when you hit the car you always want to go down before you go up.

ROWE: That should be on a t-shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you don't know when the car is sitting at, you go up it's already up your going to break something but on break down, you don't want to spend more money...

ROWE: No. Why would we do that? No, no, let's break nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So step it down before we go up.

There you go up. That's the back and you got the front.

ROWE: All right. So you're driving around you always want to do this one first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Go back use another one, one more. Right there a little jerk...

ROWE: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... that's the some go back going all the way up.

ROWE: The all the way up.


ROWE: What about the rhythm you were talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's when you hop it that's when you want to try to bounce a little bit.

ROWE: And how do you feel? I mean, you're listening for the engine? Are you're trying to find a groove?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on the car we're it's at level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody has a different way. I listen to the pump or the sound, the sound of the pump.

ROWE: Really? What's the sound like?



ROWE: Yup.


ROWE: Yeah. Oh yeah, holy crap. Oh now I get it. How you doing back there, men? How's the ride?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's the ride.



ROWE: I'm in the Paramount neighborhood of South L.A. hanging with the embrace (ph) of Homies Hydraulics where regular rides become lowriders.

I kind of understand how they work and how they make one half. But the only way to be sure is to take one for test drive, and I hope I don't break anything.


ROWE: Aha.

V. FUENTES: ... you're going to hold the last switch down right there.

ROWE: Aha. V. FUENTES: Right. And then you're going to turn. Get a little gas. It will pop up...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not enough gas.

ROWE: Not enough gas.

V. FUENTES: That's I.T...

ROWE: Not enough gas, tricky business. All right, let's go around again.

V. FUENTES: Now, you turn this corner. You hold that switch down.

ROWE: I got it.

V. FUENTES: Give a little gas and giving more gas. There you go. There you go, it's (inaudible) now.

ROWE: Oh yeah.

V. FUENTES: There you go.

ROWE: OK. That's right.

V. FUENTES: You want to hop it (inaudible)?

ROWE: I like to hop it.

V. FUENTES: Tap the front down. You're missing switches.

ROWE: Yeah.

V. FUENTES: I hold the front switch down, you're going to quick tap up and then hold the down again. You got to be real quick for the switch.

ROWE: I got it.

V. FUENTES: There you go. You got real quick on the switch there.

ROWE: All right, now I got it.

V. FUENTES: There you go.


V. FUENTES: There you go.

ROWE: Oh yeah.

V. FUENTES: We go off.

ROWE: Yeah, man.

It's like electric car. That stuff broke my neck from a back up and something funny in my hip, knee shot, ribs have collapse. It's good fun though. It's good, fun.

FUENTES: That's all the fun of it.

ROWE: That's the fun of it, man. John (ph), you say you make enough?

JOHN (PH): I'm all right.

ROWE: Look here, a penny fell out of my pants, you can have it. Take it if you like...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shake it down, huh?

ROWE: Vincent is 81 (inaudible) is but one example. Lowriders come and all makes some models in years and of course all levels of (inaudible).

Wow. Just like bananas (ph). I'm not even sure what I'm looking at. Same basic...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same basics concept, yeah. Got everything dated 1940s, 1930s aircrafts with this...

ROWE: Such as?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is landing gear over here.

That's the pump of landing here.

ROWE: I'm always impressed from somebody to fix an airplane apart and turns into a car.


ROWE: Same concepts, just a little (inaudible)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a little -- yeah. A little bit more money.

ROWE: So well, some people go for style over substance. Others just want more height, lots more height.

The car is operated remotely because really, who would be crazy enough to sit inside a car doing this.

Holy crap, that's not a lowrider. There's nothing low about that.

How long before it just falls apart when you're doing that?

WHEELER: Like over the course of a life.

ROWE: Like when do you have to go and it's like start put -- start replacing stuff?

WHEELER: Harboring the car every weekend. I'll take check (inaudible) is. ROWE: Yeah. So, you got to stay on it?

WHEELER: You got to stay on.

ROWE: Could it be embarrassing for this thing that throw (inaudible) 80 inches up in the air. It's awkward.

All right, so I've learned how to hop them, bounce them and put them up on three wheels. But the question remains, have I got what it takes, to righteously represents as I cruise the hood with my homies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going back town.

ROWE: I'm trying to assume decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It can take that gangta lean in it.

ROWE: All right. Shall we?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Give some gas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my goodness...

ROWE: It's all coming together. This is all happen. Look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let all out of him, let it down. You're a good guy.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold the gas down?

ROWE: Oh, man.


ROWE: This is so embarrassing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold it. Hold it.

ROWE: I never leave this down, man.


ROWE: Sounds -- that's sounds cool, is it? That's probably cooler thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got (inaudible).

ROWE: It feels good, all right.

Now, I hit you a little bit a... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. There you go. You got it.

ROWE: So (inaudible).


ROWE: You cruise around, the next thing, you know, you still out.

Isn't the (inaudible) and everybody is looking, everyone is clapping and then it's stop. Yes, it's like part of the church, man. It's hard to fix it. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Hold the gas down.

ROWE: All right.

You know what? I think it's actually your character.

I like to put it up (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hit the third one down. No -- that's it.

ROWE: That was fun.

Just like that. Now, see it can hop.

All right, so, Duke is on his way, over there he is and here comes the parade.

I don't know how many they are, I mean, it dozen.

I don't know where they going to go. And I think, we're going to hang out in the parking lot here. So, you can hop up and, you know, the highest.

It's a thing to do on a Wednesday, you know?

GARCIA: And now, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to be doing a happy moment here right now. We're doing this for a trophy right here, ladies and gentlemen.

ROWE: So all after grabs, man. It's all after grabs and you could catch the attention with a (noise).

GARCIA: Mike got the trophy right here.

ROWE: I got it.

GARCIA: This is all going to be televised at CNN News.

ROWE: Oh, my goodness. The stakes are so high. The trophy is so beautiful. The car is just so low. How's it going to end? No one really knows. It's a mystery.

There really aren't a lot of cars equipped, compete at this level. Tonight, there's only two and the first is about to go. GARCIA: All right. High class (ph) is going first. He's going to do

the thing right now. High class, do the thing, homie.

All right. Ladies and gentlemen, give him a hand

[21:20:00] ROWE: I don't know how anyone could possibly compete with a car that literally bounced the chrome off its fender.

How can you go higher than that?

But, there's one willing to try. This is Speedy (ph) and he's offered me the chance to sit alongside of him while he goes for the glory. Men those as so crooked looking tiers. Since my only real job on this is gig is to go for a ride I can't really say no, so I hopped in and buckle up.

I think he doesn't have any seatbelt in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope you guys pays for insurance.

ROWE: Oh yeah. I'm insured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got Mike in the car right there.

ROWE: Men, I need to get a picture of this. So (inaudible) handy in the court proceedings, in case this is the last thing.



ROWE: So I'm deep in lowrider country here in Paramount, California and I have somehow found myself participating in a hydraulic pop-off.

I guess we pull up and faster out of it, huh?

Seems a little -- what's the word, crazy, but as long as I've got the car as owner, Speedy (ph), seating along side of me I think I'm in good hands. No seatbelt?

SPEEDY (PH): Hold on, don't move, hold on. We got Mike in the car right there.

ROWE: I'm ready to roll man.

SPEEDY (PH): Sir, (inaudible) you hold the steering wheel.

ROWE: Oh, (inaudible) crazy.

SPEEDY (PH): Hold it tight, right.

ROWE: Hold it tight, all right. Oh you're not doing your not doing this?

SPEEDY (PH): No you. You're the man.


ROWE: Seriously, dude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm taping you, Mike, you got it.

ROWE: Yeah I'm glad.


GARCIA: Don't step on the break.

ROWE: I'm not on the break. I've been in a monster truck before this is a lot scarier.

GARCIA: Please, don't step on the break.

ROWE: I'm not on the break.

GARCIA: You're stepping on the breaks again.

[21:25:00] ROWE: I'm not. I'm not (inaudible) the break I swear to God.

GARCIA: OK. Mike, are you ready?

ROWE: I don't know.

GARCIA: All right. Thumbs up for Mike, he's ready.

GARCIA: Mike, are you OK?

Somebody get Mike.


ROWE: I'm good.

GARCIA: Mike, how are you doing, Mike?

ROWE: I'm good. That's better than monster truck.

I bit my tongue enough.

GARCIA: (inaudible) Let's call it one high cut.


GARCIA: All right, give to Mike that trophy.

ROWE: I don't deserve it.

Obviously, I didn't really do anything but survived. But, hey, fellows give me an award for that. I'll take it.

A. FUENTES: Good job, Mike.

ROWE: Thank you, man. Thank you.

The culture of (torch bearers) like Anthony, Vince, Ralph and Duke, it's easy to see how this colorful tradition has cruised through the last half of century with no sign of running out of gas.

So if you're looking a foot a little top in your right, well, think about heading at Paramount, California for the fellows at Homies Hydraulics, know a thing or two about lowriding, high bouncing, sweet looking cars.

Thanks for letting me ride, man.

V. FUENTES: No problem.

ROWE: That was great fun.


ROWE: Really great.

A. FUENTES: Thank you. Thank you.

ROWE: Good fun.

Hey, Duke.


ROWE: Thank you for everything.

GARCIA: You're welcome.

ROWE: Lowriders baby.

It's cold this morning. Uncharacteristically cold here in Jackson, Mississippi, the kind of cold that freezes the dew but a fine day to make a guitar out of a cigar box. Let's do that.

Millions of kids these days, dream of becoming rock stars and guitar gods. And millions of parents lay down big bucks for stored-bought instruments that spend the rest of their lives gathering dust.

So before you drop thousands on a Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster, there might be a cheaper alternative out there down at the cigar shop.

According to this guy, Archie Storey.

ARCHIE STOREY, CIGAR BOX GUITAR MAKER: Mr. Mike, nice to meet you sir.

ROWE: Archie Storey?

STOREY: Yes, sir.

ROWE: And his lovely wife.


ROWE: Christy, it's nice to meet you. Thanks for having us.

STOREY: Yes, sir.

ROWE: And when I said hello, I told you everything I knew about cigar box guitars. I've got like a thousand questions.

STOREY: You do?

ROWE: Would it be OK to see one first that's already been made? Maybe listen to one.

A. STOREY: Yes, sir.

ROWE: I shouldn't be play?

A. STOREY: A little, very little.

ROWE: Yeah.

A. STOREY: Not much. This is a one string. This is the cigar box and a stick. It's called one string diddley bow, Bo Diddley, this was a diddley body. So diddley, that's where it gets its name, the artist Bo Diddley.

ROWE: Sure. I know about Diddley, but what the diddley bow?

A. STOREY: He plays the cigar bow guitar. That's the diddley bow. This is the diddley bow and the bow was one string.

ROWE: I didn't understand. OK. OK.

A. STOREY: That's where we got its name.

ROWE: Just want to make sure everybody is tracking that this part of the guitar is called the bow.

A. STOREY: Well, this is called the neck.

ROWE: The neck. What's the bow?

A. STOREY: It's just -- there is no bow. It's just...

ROWE: It was the diddley.

A. STOREY: The diddley was you.

ROWE: I feel like I was verge of understand (inaudible).

I hate to get all (can burns) on you but this level of confusion can only be properly addressed with some vintage photos.

So the diddley bow was derived from West African stringed instruments. At base, it's a single strand of bailing wire strand between two nails on a board. It doesn't look like much but the diddley bow went on to shape American musical history.

During the Great Depression, guitars were a luxury most people couldn't afford. But a cigar box and a few pieces of wire were easy for the aspiring musicians (inaudible). And that unique sound set all sorts of things and motion.

What would I do with this.

A. STOREY: The first primitive version of cigar box guitar came during the civil war. There is a photo, a long photo of two gentleman sit around the camp fire playing cigar box guitar.

The first primitive form of this is how you build one came from the Boys Scout of America...

ROWE: They are always on it. The boy scouts are always there. Are you boys scout?

A. STOREY: Yes, sir. Yes, sir, eagle scout all the way.

[21:30:00] ROWE: Look at that, eagle equal scouts in one room. Give us a moment please.

Trustworthy, loyal?

A. STOREY: Yes, sir.

ROWE: Helpful, friendly...


ROWE: Obedient.

A. STOREY: Obedient.

ROWE: Cheerful.

A. STOREY: Cheerful.

ROWE: Thrifty.

A. STOREY: Loyal.

ROWE: Brave. Clean (inaudible).

A. STOREY: Yes, sir, all the way.

ROWE: I don't recall a Blues history merit badge but if I had heard one, I had have learned that cigar box guitars would flock (ph) by everyone from John Lee Hooker to B.B King. I would have also been required to actually make one.

Since none of that happened back when I was in uniform, I thought I give it a shot today because as the Boy Scout motto clearly states "Get off your ass and do something". I'm paraphrasing, of course. Here is the plan as I understand it. Bill, guitar playing legend is

on his way here. You're going to teach me how to make a guitar out of the cigar box.

A. STOREY: Yes, sir.

ROWE: And I'm going to do that and then, Bill's going to come and play.

A. STOREY: That's it.

ROWE: After getting an eye full of Archie's deceptively simple creations, I was curious to get a look inside the manufacturing hub where each one is lovingly produced.

Is its snowing again?

A. STOREY: I think it's snowing. I do believe we have snow fall.

ROWE: Snowing in Jackson, Mississippi.

STOREY: But we do have a shop with heat so...

ROWE: That sounds exciting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Worry, babe. You know me. I know you.

[21:35:00] ROWE: So, I'm in Jackson, Mississippi preparing to make my very first cigar box guitar with cigar box guitar making virtue also, Archie Storey.

A. STOREY: I'm going to start it out. I'm going to give you some choices, I brought you different boxes out here.

ROWE: All right.

A. STOREY: I would like to choose my boxes, the sound of them, never bought a sound a little different.

Check them out Stick it by we're doing two.

ROWE: We're doing two.

A. STOREY: We're doing two.

ROWE: This one like, I like them both.

A. STOREY: All right.

ROWE: Turns out I'm going to make two. We'll start with the classic one string and then advance to the more complicated four-string, which I assume is three times more difficult.

A. STOREY: I think what I'm going to do is try to make (inaudible) guitar mix at the same time. It's kind of the best to work them both at same time.

ROWE: All right. While it's tempting to document every step of this cigar box guitar making process, I'd be remiss to find the collected the historical impact of what's really going on in Archie's modest workshop, so let's learn along the way shall we, just in case (inaudible) is watching.

And I'm perfect.

A. STOREY: You know won't perfect.

ROWE: No I nailed it.

Mississippi is known as the birth place of the blues and the blues came in two flavors. There was the delta blues which gave rise to greats like Son House and Muddy Waters.

OK. I got to take a bigger (inaudible) out there. Then there was the Hill Country Blues which evoke more rhythm fewer cord changes and a lineage that goes straight back to the African motherland.

And maybe I make it worst.

A. STOREY: All personality.

ROWE: Yeah, well this one appears to be schizophrenic.

Regardless of where they were played, cigar box instruments would become a crucial component of that now unmistakable soundtrack for ever associated with the Deep South.

A. STOREY: All right. Sound well.

ROWE: How big is this, the cigar box world?

A. STOREY: When I started several years ago, there was like three of us some of us in Mississippi that does it.

ROWE: Who's the most famous cigar box guitar maker in the world?

A. STOREY: I would say it's Bill Abel

ROWE: If I'm connecting the dots properly Archie's friend, Bill Abel, the premiere maker and player of the cigar box guitar will be using my very own instrument, so no pressure.

Then the tune.

Bill Abel: Goes sounds blues.

ROWE: That's it.

Bill Abel: Go sound of blues.

ROWE: Well, technically I just made a guitar. It's a cigar box guitar, I took about two hours. Is this going to work literally doesn't the dollars one day.

The legendary Bill Abel was nice enough to drive all the way out here to show us how these odd creations are meant to sound. Like Archie, Bill is a man who works to bring life into a dying craft and prove that the past is always right there with us, it will just put in the work to dig it up.

That's my guitar, I made that guitar a minutes ago, not 15 minutes ago.

A. STOREY: I'm glad you came (ph).

ROWE: How's the sound, Bill?


ROWE: Does really.

ABEL: Yeah.

ROWE: What's that sound called?

ABEL: Well, that's the something I made up with the a few who a, a few lyrics from another sound.

ROWE: It not always the way are old song, a few looks from another songs of some of guy I heard one day and then thought me maybe if I like this way and he like it that way, we put it together and we have this whole finger leaking good new song.

ABEL: Yeah. I mean that's a story in blues music.

ROWE: You're playing all your life?

ABEL: Since I was a teenager, yes.

ROWE: Yeah. So what you do for during the day? What do you for money?

ABEL: Whatever my life tells me.

ROWE: Why as if you're in a Jackson, Mississippi anytime? You got some desire for guitar made from the cigar box you can stop by on Archie showing the road sell you guitar.

A. STOREY: Yes sir.

ROWE: In the end, making music is a lot like making anything else. There's trial and error, improvisation and practice, and degrees of success that very wildly. But happily when you find yourself seating around the fire of good nature people and overall feared.

There's not a lot of judgment going, and that's good thing.

ABEL: Just say no you.

ROWE: How do you know when the song is done.

Playing with a cigar box is all kind of fun.

I tell you some more but here's the thing.

The guitar I made is got one string.

[21:40:00] And the crowd goes wild.

This come to my attention that many of our elected officials and even some of our founding fathers have disturbing ties to China. What's up with that?

Mitt Romney, made in China. I'm sure he was from Boston -- with a capital J. I was told Georgia.

I thought he was from California.

I thought it was Arkansas. I had no idea.

All right. So maybe it's not a scandal. Maybe the undeniable fact that bobblehead versions of American presidents are now being mass produced only in China has no real impact on the macroeconomic forces shaping our larger relationship with American manufacturer.

Personally, I'm more concerned with microeconomic issues, which is why I am in this production band hurdling toward the next story.

When a fan suggested I raise money for my foundation by mass producing a bobblehead version of myself, I said, "OK", but with a few conditions. I wanted the best possible quality, the lowest possible price, and one more thing.

I'm going to do a bobblehead. I want it made in the USA. It just seemed unreasonable thing to ask but everywhere I turn -- you can't make a bobblehead in the USA. Company reached out called Royal Bobbles here in Alpharetta, Georgia. They said, "Look, we can't do it on a mass scale but we'll make you 100 for your foundation.

It will all go as planned. I'm going to have a 100 limited, made in the USA bobbleheads of me. Some have said, I've been limited all my life. And in this case I'll be limited to 100.



ROWE: In the last six months, I have scoured the country looking for an American company that can mass produce thousands of bobbleheads of my image right here on the good old USA.

We're here.

From what I'm told, it's no longer possible. However, I did find a bobble mogul in Georgia who wants to help me out.


ROWE: How are you?

ROYAL: How are you doing? It's good to see you.

ROWE: Warren, it's good to see you. It's Warren, right?

ROYAL: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for coming out.

ROWE: He also wants to explain why the entire bobblehead business has gone to China.

That's a big bobble.

ROYAL: It is. We use (ph) to trade shows and there's nothing like a big bobblehead to let people know what you do.

ROWE: I love it.

Bobblehead dolls have been around a lot longer than you think.

ROYAL: Yes, this could be about 140 years old. Paper mache -- you can see it's kind of a different mechanism. It's more of a pivot and its face peeling of and shirts (ph) loaded with lead paint.

ROWE: Of course. You made a pure, healthy asbestos.

Warren has been in the bobblehead biz for less than 10 years. But these types of figurines date all the way back to the 1600s and of all places, China. Nowadays, some bobbleheads can be cheap plastic chachkies or highly collectible reproductions of pop culture figures.

This set of original Beatles bobbleheads from 1964 will set you back at least $10,000. Something to shake your head at but this is business that Warren who spent 20 years in the mortgage industry knew nothing about.

This company, how do they come in to existence and how many people work here?

ROYAL: Well, that was a victim of the dot-com bobble. I started just tinkering and I was buying and selling some domain names. And so, one day, there was an auction -- a domain auction in the name (inaudible) an auction and that's it. That's cool, I think I'll bid. So I was kind of surprised that I won it.

ROWE: The man bought a company called bobbleheads...

ROYAL: Dot-com.

ROWE: Dot-com. Never having made a bobble?

ROYAL: Right.

ROWE: So you're essentially like wrote a headline...

ROYAL: Right.

ROWE: ... and made up the story.

ROYAL: And this was during the 2008 election with, you know, Obama and John McCain, and all of that, Sarah Palin. And so, all of the sudden overnight, literally on day 1, I had an order. And it kind of grew from there.

ROWE: Warren did know a thing or two about e-Commerce though and was able to reinvent himself in this quirky trade which leads to the real reason I'm here. Why is it so hard to mass produce a high quality bobblehead at a competitive price in the United States of America? To find out, you actually have to make one.

ROYAL: So this is Tom.

ROWE: Hey, Tom.

ROYAL: He's our digital sculptor.

ROWE: How are you?


ROWE: Likewise.

ROYAL: From the beginning of bobbleheads, they have been developed in kind of the old way using clays.

ROWE: Yeah.

ROYAL: When the clay is ready, you make a mold and you pour the cast and you do the paint.

ROWE: Right.

ROYAL: Within last few years, we started doing digital sculpting.

ROWE: So all the designs starts right here at Tom's desk.

ROYAL: That's right.

ROWE: We sent you a picture, right, something to work from?

VAINIO: Actually, it was pulled up very quick.

ROWE: So you kind of lay the actual...

VAINIO: It's an overlay. Yes. Yes. In that way, you get the most accurate results.

ROWE: That's a very good craft.

ROYAL: Right. I understand. Yeah.

ROWE: So that's a reasonable amount of dog crap in a bag. And there'll be a dog at me feet.

ROYAL: Not just any dog.

ROWE: That's my dog. It's pretty. That's great. I haven't looked that lean in a while.

ROYAL: Mike, we've also learned another important part of designing bobbleheads is that you have to accentuate the positive.

ROWE: Maybe look smarter?

ROYAL: They were going to two or three print. The digital file will be sent to a 3D printer and will be output as a physical luncheon (ph) and then I can show you some of those.

ROWE: Rachael...


ROWE: ... Mike.

R. ROYAL: Nice to meet you.

ROWE: Nice to meet you. So this came off the 3D printer.

W. ROYAL: It comes directly from the file that you've sent.

R. ROYAL: When I get that, I start making the molds for them. OK. So you stick them down in there. So as soon as that sets up, we can take them back into the warehouse and pour the silicon in it. And this is the form per mold.

Would you like an apron?

ROWE: Would it look like that?

R. ROYAL: Yes, it will.

ROWE: Yeah, I would.

The steps to making a mold are pretty straightforward.

What am I stirring again?

R. ROYAL: It's silicon rubber.

ROWE: First, you need to mix together a couple of silicon agents but you need to do it fast.

R. ROYAL: For this, you have nine minutes until it starts to gel. And then, you can't work with it anymore. You have to get it right the first time.

[21:50:00] ROWE: I had no idea such level of pressure existed down here at the bobblehead factory.

R. ROYAL: Very intense.

ROWE: Once you've got that perfect mix, you pour it over the 3D casting you just made.

R. ROYAL: It looked good.

ROWE: So you're basically making kind of a negative, right?

R. ROYAL: That's exactly what you're doing. And what we're going to do is we're going to put it in our pressure pot and you stick it down in there.


R. ROYAL: And this is going to get all the air bubbles out. And if you don't get them on time, it will explode. So, you be careful.

ROWE: So, it's good though.

W. ROYAL: You have to spin that.

R. ROYAL: We're all ready. You do that. And it's going to sit for 30 minutes.

ROWE: Crap.

R. ROYAL: Sorry about that.

W. ROYAL: Watch out for the beam.

ROWE: I got it.

30 minutes later, the rubber has hardened. Now, I need to pull out the printed cast head.

Oh, yeah. It's hard.

R. ROYAL: At this point, we will cut it open. Use razor blade.

ROWE: Which is easier said than done.

R. ROYAL: And you just cut down the side.

ROWE: It's the best way to do this?

R. ROYAL: That's the way I do it. I believe it's the best way.

ROWE: Are your fingers still attached?

R. ROYAL: Sometimes, not all the time.

ROWE: I might be a sissy about this or is this just not cutting through here.

R. ROYAL: I have another razor if you'd like to try that one.

ROWE: Seriously, Rachael, are you messing with me?

R. ROYAL: No, I'm not. Do you want me to do it?




[21:55:00] ROWE: So I'm here in Alpharetta, Georgia trying to mass produce a high quality bobblehead I can sell to raise some money for the Mike Rowe Work Scholarship fund.


And I'm failing.

R. ROYAL: And you just cut down the side.


ROWE: What the hell. I'm pretty sure this is going to slip off. I'm going to pull up my liver. Look at that. Why wouldn't it go through there? Go ahead.

No, no, no. You didn't just do that.

R. ROYAL: You just pull it over.

ROWE: Why didn't that do that for me?

R. ROYAL: I don't know.

ROWE: I do not want to cut your thumb off.

R. ROYAL: I would support (ph) that too.

So at that point, you're going to pull your mold apart.

ROWE: Yeah.

R. ROYAL: And that's perfect. That's what's it's supposed to.

ROWE: All right.

R. ROYAL: It's ready to have the resin board.

And then, it's going to go to the pressure pot.

ROWE: Back to the pressure pot.

R. ROYAL: There you go.

ROWE: And now, after a mere four minutes...

R. ROYAL: And then... ROWE: Aww. And the threat of another concussion.

R. ROYAL: He's perfect. That's fresh out of the mold and you can see little defects like this and like underneath the chin.

ROWE: Yeah.

R. ROYAL: Those will have to be cleaned up before we can prime him.

ROWE: It's me. It's not him.

R. ROYAL: Right. Before we can prime him.

ROWE: I'm standing right here.

R. ROYAL: And then, we'll do things like cut off the neck and drill out the hole in the head, put in the spring, paint him, and he'll be ready to be attached to the body.

ROWE: And now comes the most critical phase -- making me look good.

W. ROYAL: When the real time comes into place, painting the details, the eyes -- the little spark in the eye...

ROWE: That's the hardest thing.

W. ROYAL: ... and the color in the eye, it takes a lot of time to do that.

R. ROYAL: This -- what I'm doing right now is just trying to make the hat look a little bit older.

ROWE: Distressed?

R. ROYAL: You don't wear nice clean hat.

ROWE: I don't wear nice clean anything.

They do appear to sparkle a little bit, a little red this morning but just a little bit of white in there.

R. ROYAL: Just a little bit of white with all this. I use two sticks -- my secret weapons.

ROWE: You're going to put toothpick in my eye.

R. ROYAL: Yup.

ROWE: Did you ever personally own a bobblehead?

R. ROYAL: I actually have one of me and my husband. It was for our wedding as a gift.

ROWE: From here?


R. ROYAL: From here. That's my father-in-law.

ROWE: Warren's your father-in-law?

R. ROYAL: Yes.

W. ROYAL: She's carried the lead, hello?

ROWE: Sorry about that. Warren, would you have a copy of that bobblehead?

W. ROYAL: This is Rachael and my son, Brandon (ph). And this is the picture were worked it from. There are perks to be in the bobblehead business.

ROWE: No kidding. It's all about who you know. Watching Rachael, I realized just how much work is involved with creating a mini-me. Surely, there must be a shortcut.

When it comes to reproducing them, does each one have to be individually hand?

R. ROYAL: Everyone is individually hand done.

W. ROYAL: Right.

ROWE: Now, is that in my case or is it like with the whole?

W. ROYAL: It's in every case.

R. ROYAL: It's all of...

W. ROYAL: If we're doing 10,000 pieces toghether...

R. ROYAL: They're all hand painted.

ROWE: You got to hand paint 10,000 pieces?

R. ROYAL: I do a molding cast here and I paint them and I make a duplicate and then we send one copy to China for them to copy what I painted.

ROWE: By hand over there?

R. ROYAL: Yes.

W. ROYAL: Right.

ROWE: What's the difference in the cost between the best possible bobblehead you can buy that's made in China and the best possible bobblehead you can buy that's made here.

W. ROYAL: The retail price of product like that we're planning to have about $200... ROWE: Yeah.

W. ROYAL: ... per unit. And about $20 if we do the hand production in China. And the only part we do in china is the molding and the casting and the hand painting.

ROWE: Right. That's fascinating. So it's not just hand painted versus non-hand painted. It's a question of where's the hand painting being done.

W. ROYAL: Right.

R. ROYAL: Yeah.

ROWE: You've agreed to do 100 of this?

W. ROYAL: Rachael would do 100 of this.

ROWE: Does that mean you're going to paint my face 100 times?

R. ROYAL: Yes, it does.

ROWE: That's so sweet. Oh, my god.

R. ROYAL: We're going to be best friends.

ROWE: So in order to mass produce a high quality version of my giant noggin here in the USA, Rachael would have to mass produce herself. When it comes to quality, there really is no shortcut. And since there's no mass market for $200 like this of yours truly, I'll just auction of the 100 Rachael agreed to make and use the money to award scholarships to train kids for American jobs.

Along the way, I will ponder the possibility that America's willingness to ship the entire bobblehead industry overseas might be reflective of a larger willingness to outsourcer all sorts of other things.

Hey, I'm no expert but my little macroeconomist friend here appears to be nodding yes. And really, who might argue?