“What Would Mike Do?” isn’t just the name of the show, which premiered Tuesday on Fox Sports South, but it’s also the question that his nine apprentices are constantly asking themselves.
Brown has earned national attention for building unique motorcycles of his own design. He knows that teaching nine other people to think like he does might be a recipe for frustration for everyone involved, but it will also make for some compelling TV.
Brown picked his nine apprentices from the Tennessee Technology Center at Phipps Bend. Together the apprentices received a limousine ride from the technical school to the Amen shop, located west of Rogersville.
That limo ride was the end of the show-biz treatment for these guys, however. Since March they’ve been working 15 hours a day, every day, with no pay and no break under Brown’s watchful eye, trying to make one of his creative visions a reality.
“I’m teaching way beyond anything they’ve been exposed to so far,” Brown said. “I’m really teaching them to dream, and really teaching them to have attitude about it. I can take attitude and no talent, and teach you something.”
The show is produced by the Kingsport-based Revma Media and airs on Fox Sports South Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at noon. Filming for season one concludes next week, and then the group takes a break for a couple of months before they begin filming season two, which has already been approved by FSS.
It’s a good thing the show got picked up for a second season because Brown’s unique creation is only half completed.
Brown is trying to make a vehicle which he calls a “roller.” The idea is to drive one of his original motorcycle creations into the contraption from the rear, connect the throttle and clutch to the roller, and drive the roller down the road powered by the bike.
There’s a hole in the bottom of the roller where the bike’s rear wheel touches the road.
The team started with a 1957 Volkswagon microbus, but as we’ll see in episode two, one of the apprentices ruins it.
So the team instead builds another roller from scratch, utilizing only a few of the unique metal aspects from the original Volkswagon’s “skin.” In this early stage it look like a Space Shuttle without wings.
“This vehicle is the first of its kind by utilizing the dual use of a fully functional drag-style custom motorcycle that pushes the VW bus down the road at interstate speeds,” Brown said. “Upon arriving at the destination the motorcycle is removed, like coming out of the trailer, and then it’s just you and your bike. You can push the bus out of the way until it’s time to load up and go home again.”
Some of the road-legal aspects of the roller might be questionable. Brown noted that it’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
The show runs 13 episodes, and Brown notes that about half of the students “fall by the wayside” before the first season comes to an end.
“We fired one guy for taking a $5 bet to swim across the lake, and he just about died. So when we got over the shock of him being that stupid I decided we need to nip stupid in the bud,” Brown said “We had one guy blow up and start slinging things around the shop, and threatened to whip (Brown’s assistant) Chuck (Little). He stayed on the telephone all the time and was disrespectful to his opportunity, but he quit before he could get fired — of course cussing as he’s going out the door.”
Another apprentice quit because he needed to take care of family obligations.
And there was one apprentice who was more schooled in electrical work and struggled with the fabrication jobs. He was caught on camera hiding his mistakes, and eventually decided to quit, Brown said.
The surviving five original apprentices watched the premier at home with their families Tuesday evening. One of those five survivors, Mark Dishner of Rogersville, said his wife called everyone she knows when the show came on.
“I love this kind of work, and I’ve always wanted to do it, and it’s just unreal being able to do it on TV...” Dishner said. “The producers did a real good job, and I think it turned out real good.”
The rewards aren’t immediate for the apprentices, but they’re hoping the experience, new knowledge and TV exposure will pay off for them in the long run.
Eric Lawson of Eidson, one the original apprentices, said he’s proud to be on the show. But more than anything right now he needs a job.
Lawson was laid off from AGC Glass, and his unemployment benefits run out in August.
“If they see what we can do, hopefully someone will say ‘We’d like to have those guys work for us,’ ” Lawson said.
Travis Teague of Church Hill doesn’t even have unemployment benefits, or any other type of income at this time.
“We have put everything we have into this show, and none of us have been paid a dime,” Teague said. “It’s taken everything we have — that we would put into another job — to finish this thing. We’ve worked 15 hours a day, every day for the last four months.”
Teague added, “This is just living on a dream, and hopefully somebody will see that we put this much into our work, and that we would somewhere else.”
Aside from completing a unique project, Brown said his main goal for the show is to provide his apprentices with experience, knowledge and something good to put on their resume.
“Our dream is to help the fellows because they’ve come in and stayed, and done the time, and the ones who stayed are the real fabricators who are making this thing happen,” Brown said. “If we can help them get a job out there in America, then I think we’ve done good.”