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Art or mechanics, the goal is the same

Cow art

Jeff Gardener’s works of art on wheels, such as the giant cow truck above, have been featured on shows such as Storage Wars Canada. He creates the vehicles in his Oshawa workshop and his driveway.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Some people fix up old cars, while others turn scrap metal into works of art. Oshawa’s Jeff Gardner does all of this and more.

The 50-year-old father of three has called Oshawa home for most of his life and while many other residents may not know him, they most likely have taken a double-take when one of his creations passes them on the street.

Gardner is more than mechanically inclined, but can take what most people see as scrap or an oddity and turn it into a functioning piece of art.

A cube van affixed with what appears to be a giant Spongebob Squarepants laying atop the roof, a mini red Mini (one of his prized possessions, and which he’s always driven coast to coast) or most famously, his giant cow truck.

Many Oshawa residents may remember this 14-foot heifer driving down Highway 401, or perhaps sitting in Gardner’s driveway. The piece was a commissioned job, and includes fully functioning freezers affixed to the sides, giant speakers and even costumes for the drivers (which Gardner also made himself).

The vehicle was also featured on Storage Wars Canada, a show Gardner has made several appearances on during its two-season run.

“Everywhere that I go with these things that I build, it becomes a little street party,” he says.

And who wouldn’t be drawn to a 14-foot mechanical cow, or vehicle with an antique sofa and lamp affixed to the back. This last creation Gardner drove through the streets of downtown Toronto, a Speaker’s Corner-like experiment.

Sitting down with The Express to talk about his work, Gardner said he wasn’t sure if he would necessarily call his work “art,” but his goal behind doing what he does is simple.

“That’s the funny thing, that’s the question – whether it’s mechanical or whether it’s art, but what it is, why I like doing stuff like this is it makes people happy,” he says.

“Nobody knows how to laugh anymore. That’s why I like to do what I do.”

With no formal training, Gardner says he has just always been mechanically inclined, with the ability to see something and see how to take to take it apart or see another function for it.

“I’ve always tinkered, for years,” he says.

And it’s not for the money, he says, because the projects are so labour intensive, there’s just simply no money in the business.

Garnder says the cow truck took nearly 2,000 hours to complete, cost well over $100,000 and also nearly cost him his finger, which he almost severed and needed to be reattached.

Most recently, Gardner has found a new hobby: airplane art.

Boiled down, the practice involves converting old pieces of planes into pieces of functioning art: a fuel tank into a couch, an engine into a table and so forth in his driveway or a small Bloor Street workshop.

“It’s basically junk and you’re going to make it into art,” he says.

Gardiner says he’s been looking into airplane parts from places as far away as British Columbia. The market for these custom pieces of furniture is a big one, but again, he doesn’t see the money being a factor.

“I do it, but you don’t make any money, really you don’t, because it’s so labour intensive,” he says. “I like stuff that makes people happy and laugh.”