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PROFILE: Designing a Dream
One-Time Student Project Making a Big Noise in the World

Date: Dec. 29, 2000
By: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824

When she was a UC industrial design junior in 1998, alumna Kristin McKinley-Steiner of Canton, Ohio, had a real blast with one "rootin-tootin" competitive studio project. She designed a 27-foot-long moving museum of bells, horns and whistles dating back to 1878. Today, her design is a reality

the Big Horn

The eight-and-a-half ton "Big Horn" museum includes the world's largest air horn. It was once housed on an aircraft carrier. The collection also includes other ship, train and boat horns; steam whistles from factories, tractors, trolleys and other vehicles; early car and motorcycle exhaust-powered horns; a carillon and circus calliope. For client Hyler Bracey, the half-million dollar project, is about making a joyful noise.

Bracey is an Atlanta-based motivational speaker who originally sponsored the UC student competition in 1998. Bracey was badly burned while a NASCAR driver in 1970. Because of his injuries, he cannot perform fine motor functions like fishing change from a vending machine or even writing with his right hand. That's why he found working with bells and whistles so satisfying. He began collecting them in 1990 after he went in search of a boat horn for a motor home. Next, he got a train whistle for the home, and "one thing led to another." Bells and horns were something his hands could, well, handle.

Hyler Bracey

"I found that horns, bells and whistles were things I could physically work with because of their larger size. It's been so empowering for me that I now use the Big Horn when I give motivational speeches at corporations and other venues. It rings out loud and clear, 'If I can do it, so can you,'" he said.

"The best part of the project was contributing to someone's dream," said McKinley-Steiner. "I feel I was able to contribute in a meaningful way to the Big Horn ... something so different, something that will be around long after I'm not." McKinley-Steiner currently serves as creative designer for Ironrock Capital, Inc. of Canton, Ohio. Although she's now working for the ceramic tile manufacturer, she says she loves her current job as well. "I know it doesn't sound like what a typical industrial designer might do, but it's great and utilizes so much of what I love about design."

Her Big Horn designed utilitized her talents to evoke the romance of far-away places, lives and experiences that the whistles and bells represent. The mobile museum resembles a whimsical keelboat on wheels topped by a Rube Goldberg fantasy of gleaming, colorful bells, horns and whistles set off by neon arches. It rolls along under the power of a 435-horsepower racing engine.

Kristin McKinley-Steiner and Hyler Bracey

When designing the Big Horn more than two years ago, McKinley-Steiner said, "The sleek, curving lines of the Big Horn are meant to recall the sense of movement inherent in waves. It's a barrage of details to design." She added that she unknowingly prepared for the "biggest" assignment of her life with cooperative education assignments at Cap Toys (then located in Bedford Heights, Ohio) and with Karrot Design, a Hong Kong consulting firm that had a client firm called Mr. Christmas. Her design duties during these co-ops focused on color and whimsy that depended on highly detailed work.

control panel for all the bells, whistles and more

"I learned how to design magic. Mr. Christmas manufactured holiday collectibles like mechanized holiday characters or Christmas carousels that were evocative and colorful, full of details to finesse, proving to be very challenging..."

Her biggest challenge in creating the Big Horn lay simply in designing something that had never existed before. Recalled McKinley-Steiner, "The most challenging thing was doing the 3-D perspective. No one knew what Big Horn looked like except Hyler. You had to get into his mind to understand his dream. That's when I began to see Big Horn. All the hours of hard work were worth it for me when I learned how excited Hyler was to receive the first 3-D drawing of Big Horn. He was so grateful and touched by the first look at his dream...I wish every project I had was that rewarding."

McKinley-Steiner has yet to see the completed Big Horn, but vows to do so in 2001. She's all set to meet up with Big Horn when it drives in the pre-Indianapolis 500 parade on May 26, 2001. She hopes to see it even sooner on the UC campus. "We want to bring it back to UC for a presentation to industrial design students in the early spring." McKinley-Steiner created her design as part of an industrial design studio led by Brad Hammond, associate professor of design.

For more information on the Big Horn, go to

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