MILWAUKEE — Hunter Howell from Baraboo, Wisconsin, built and rides one of the most unique machines you will ever see. Then it all makes a little more sense once you learn he rode unicycle in the circus for 15 years.
Howell has built four 'monowheels.' It's a large motorized wheel you sit in. It's kind of like a unicycle, but instead of being on top of it you are inside of it.
"The best way I can explain it is just nothing but out of control. That's the feeling of what it feels like. It's kind of like doing a wheelie on a motorcycle but all the time," Howell, who describes himself as a stuntman, said.
It's a motorized wheel you sit in. There are only four people that ride these in the world. And one of them is smashing through walls of fire. pic.twitter.com/LFdwHLQULZ— James Groh (@JamesGroh_) July 8, 2020
For a few years, he has been tinkering with designs of his monowheels. Recently, he created a 500-pound monowheel made out of a tractor tire that goes upside down. He said he was also the first person to break through a wall of fire on a monowheel.
"There's roughly about 50 of these machines in the world and only about four guys actively riding these," Howell said.
That puts him in a pretty special company.
Howell discovered monowheels while at a circus in Michigan. He was so intrigued he began asking around how to build one. A few welding classes later, Howell had his very own monowheel. Howell built each monowheel he is including the wiring, machining, welding, and everything in between.
He has gained a lot of attention too.
"I have traveled from the east coast to the west coast doing state fairs all the way up to Hollywood movies."
Howell couldn't say the movie he was filmed in due to contractual obligations.
However, given that he is a performer, Howell has fallen on tougher times recently during the coronavirus pandemic.
"For me, this is my career my this is my living. It's how I make my money. How I get food on the table, and unfortunately every event has canceled."
Just last year he was in around 30 parades last summer. During the Fourth Of July, he was at six separate events. All these cancellations have been a major financial hit.
"Its been really rough. It's been really really rough for all of us," he said.
Howell has picked up side jobs with his machining and welding skills, but he said at least all the downtime gives him more opportunities to fine-tune his monowheels.
Plus, Howell has his sights set on the horizon. He said he sometimes likes to think about breaking the monowheel land speed record.
"I told myself if you see me going for this record it's going to be for one thing one thing only that is 100 miles per hour.”
That might be a while, though. The current record is around 70 mph. Howell's fastest is about 40 mph. Plus, unlike breaking speed records in cars, there are only a very select few who know how to build these and have the skills to drive that fast.
However, Howell said people have reached out asking to buy a monowheel. Although, Howell always says no because he knows how hard it is to ride a monowheel.
"Oh yes, I've been injured too many times to count actually. On this (monowheel) I've been burned, broke my wrist, I broke my collar bone, my AC joint, tibia, and a lot of other ones. I just can't remember them all."
None of the injuries have stopped him. In fact, it makes him want to get back on the monowheel and keep improving.
"The motivation behind this is pushing the limits pushing what I can do and what these machines are capable of doing and seeing how far you can go. The human body and the human mind can do things that is (sic) just insane."
While it's unclear when Howell might be able to perform again, it's clear he won't stop riding or building monowheels.