DOUGLAS — He’s not a doomsday prepper, nor does he believe a zombie apocalypse is happening anytime in the near future, his Mad Max infatuation not withstanding. That being said, it’s easy to think otherwise when gazing upon Travis Blankenbaker’s 16,000-pound wasteland war rig, appropriately named Atomic Annie, as it sits in his Glenrock driveway.
For the former Douglas resident, it’s less about prepping and more about allowing his creative mind to run amok. When that happens, his hands craft the unimaginable.
Three years ago, a proposition was brought up that he couldn’t resist. His step mother was tired of housing a 1972 Ford F-600 farm truck in her field and wanted it gone. For Blankenbaker, 41, it was the perfect starter piece to handcraft a one-of-a-kind vehicle.
“As a grain truck, it hadn’t ran or moved in 20 years,” he recalled. “She said, ‘Get it out of my field and you can have it.’”
She didn’t have to ask twice before the truck was hauled off to its new home in Blankenbaker’s double-wide driveway.
A major Mad Max fan since childhood, Blankenbaker quickly came up with a plan for the old Ford. The unique visual style of the movies always spoke to him. Now he had a chance to put his own unique twist on constructing something that could easily blend into Mad Max director George Miller’s next feature-length post apocalyptic film.
Combining a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker a friend was renovating in Cheyenne and a 1973 pickup truck camper with the truck was the whole idea, he just had to figure out how to make it all come together in an appealing and functional manner.
He says the pickup camper works as good as it did originally in 1973, and the sedan, even though its flipped around backwards to feature suicide doors, seats four comfortably and is nearly tall enough to stand up in.
“I consider this an off-road RV,” he said.
The behemoth has more personal touches than possible to count, complete with a hand-hammered copper roof liner, handcrafted gas tanks, bobble heads on the dash and gunner hatch that pay homage to the films.
The vehicle is not a 4x4, but Blankenbaker doesn’t believe there are too many places this vehicle won’t go. He’s probably right.
Completing Atomic Annie has been a work in progress for the better part of three years now. When he arrives home from his day job, he tinkers and dreams up new additions before bringing them to fruition. When asked why he had the urge to build the 16,000-pound war machine, it was pretty simple.
“Why not,” he responded. “I have the skills and abilities. It keeps me out of trouble.”
This is his third vehicle build, but the first two were more traditional restorations.
“This one I’ve enjoyed so much more,” he said. “It’s a clean slate and I can do whatever I want. I’ve got all kinds of goofy crap that goes on this thing.”
A 1950s copper bug sprayer will eventually be converted into an outdoor shower tank. As for the gray water, that is stored in an old beer keg.
It’s hard for Blankenbaker to estimate just how much work he’s poured into the car over three years, but estimates he has in the neighborhood of 1,500 hours in it so far and still has more work to do.
He has traveled in it to Wasteland Weekend, the world’s largest post-apocalyptic festival held in the California desert. That trip in 2017 taught him a lot about his rig, which won Most Wasteland Survival Ready during the event. One thing he learned was the 330 gas motor had to go.
“I was getting five miles to a gallon and was still underpowered,” he said.
This year, he pulled the motor and put in a DT 466 diesel in, giving triple the mileage he was getting before. He also swapped the chassis to an International 310 truck.
“I won’t get it back on the road until next spring,” he said. “It’s loud, obnoxious and I absolutely love it.”
Blankenbaker’s creativeness spans well beyond building Atomic Annie. The man enrolled in welding college at the age of 16 and has been doing the trade for the better part of the last 25 years.
Regardless of what he’s making, he says it has to be 100 percent functional, even if it is an ornamental piece with immense detail and craftsmanship.
Recently, he was notified by the Amoco Reuse Agreement Joint Powers Board in Casper to inform him that he was one of three Wyoming artists awarded bids to erect sculptures for the riverside trail at Three Crowns Golf Club in Casper.
So, along with wrapping up Atomic Annie and various other projects, he has a sculpture to build. In typical Blankenbaker fashion, he says he’s going big.
Standing eight feet tall and eight feet in circumference, his plan is to build a sculpture with a theme of how the oil industry has supported Casper.
He’s keeping the finer details a secret for now, in order for the reveal to be a surprise. It is his first commissioned artwork, he said.
He knows this is a big opportunity, and wants to make the best of it.
“I was on cloud nine when I got that phone call. . . I was ecstatic,” he said. “It’s going to be crazy.”
Last week, Blankenbaker was busy working on medieval pots to pass the time. He says a lot of his spare time is spent in his garage tinkering. It’s simply his passion.
“I’ve been doing medieval stuff for probably 23 to 25 years,” he said, mentioning that he is part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide organization that boasts more than 30,000 members.
Blankenbaker keeps busy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I love it.”