Tim Willis' Junkyard Playground – Cleveland, Ohio - Atlas Obscura

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Tim Willis' Junkyard Playground

Old car parts and assorted materials get turned into one man's mechanical treasures on the side streets of Cleveland. 

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Sometimes the most amazing things lay off the beaten path and away from the more touristy sights of a city. Such is the case in the Fairfax neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, where one man’s lifetime fascination with tinkering, muscle cars, and monster trucks has translated into a delightful menagerie of roadside art pieces.

Inspired by the giant mechanical spider in 1999’s Wild Wild West, Timothy Willis has built over 28 brightly painted robots and fantastical machines on a grassy lot on the street where he grew up. They come straight out of his turbo-powered imagination and mad-scientist-like “can do” attitude. A self-taught engineer and artist, Willis dropped out of high school at 15 and found his place in the world challenging himself to create art through engineering.

Willis uses his observations of everyday industrial machines to dive into each project with gusto. He never sketches his plans out, but rather creates through constant trial-and-error, using spare pieces and parts to develop the over-the-top creations that form in his mind. He is always willing to talk to the curious and to fellow would-be tinkerers who stop by to marvel at his creations, and always encourages those younger people who see his works to follow their creativity through to its conclusion. Willis has become a staple at local festivals and events, gleefully showing off the tricks of his art to the delight of those who gather around to watch. 

Today, you can see Willis’ work on East 83rd Street in all of its mechanized glory; a 10-foot-tall mechanical dog and his almost 17-foot-tall owner, surrounded by souped-up muscle cars all painted in a brilliant and trademarked red and yellow motif. Willis is still tinkering and building, so be assured that other creations will join the assembled crew soon.

Know Before You Go

When you go, park on the street and be respectful of the neighborhood if you stop by. There is a fence surrounding the property, but you can walk right up to it and take all of the photos you care to take.

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