Canadian man Joe Murray is used to big projects; he has spent more than a quarter of a century farming grain and raising cattle, after all. But perhaps his most interesting venture has been the excavation of his basement. You see, over a 14-year period Murray has been slowly digging up the earth under his home using toy-sized construction tools. And the stunning videos of the process have now racked up more than seven million views on YouTube.
Almost everyone has a hobby, whether that’s fiction writing, fishing, stamp collecting or oil painting, And according to research, this is a good thing, too. In 2015 psychology professor Jamie Kurtz explained in an article for Psychology Today that such activities actually help us to manage our time better, make new friends and relieve stress, among other benefits.
But, of course, everyone’s ideas of what constitutes enjoyable pastimes differ, which is how some hobbyists end up partaking in some less traditional diversions. For instance, in 1997 Phil Shaw of Leicester, England, transformed the boring household chore of ironing into something much more exciting. To begin with, he simply took his laundry hamper outdoors and pressed clothes in his backyard.
It was then, however, that one of Shaw’s friends caught him outside and asked what he was up to. “Extreme ironing,” Shaw replied, according to Mental Floss. And from there, a new hobby for Shaw – and subsequently others – was born. In fact, there’s now even an Extreme Ironing Bureau, and its Facebook page explains exactly what the one-of-a-kind “sport” entails.
According to the bureau, extreme ironing – also referred to as “EI” – combines “the thrill of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.” What’s not to like? Very little, it would seem, as since the ’90s, hobbyists have been taking their domestic chores to unexpected locations: from the bottoms of oceans to the tops of mountains, including the likes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Extreme ironers have been known to compete with one another, too, at the World Championships, which were held in 2002 in Munich, Germany. There, participants completed their chores on rock-climbing walls, in the branches of trees and even inside canoes traveling through rushing waters. In most cases, the competitors had niftily heated up their irons before beginning the races or used cordless appliances in order to press on the go.
And while nowadays there is little sign of extreme ironers gathering for official events, the keenest nevertheless continue to participate in their domestically inspired sport. But there’s yet another intriguing pastime that has transformed a chore into an art form. When it comes to extreme dog grooming, though, “extreme” seems to be defined somewhat differently.
Rather than performing their tasks in unexpected environments, you see, extreme dog groomers impress spectators with their over-the-top designs. For example, a 2014 competition called Intergroom saw pups transformed into parrots, clowns, flamingos, leopards and a host of other creatures and characters that appear far from their actual canine forms.
Meanwhile, although some skeptics have expressed concern over the wellbeing of the pooches involved, the groomers apparently do all that they can to make the process as gentle and painless as possible. At the same New Jersey-based Intergroom competition, for instance, participants used non-toxic dyes and applied them over several days so that the dogs weren’t uncomfortable or overworked.
And photographer Paul Nathan, who attended Intergroom from his New York City base, claims that some pups are made to be groomers’ muses. He told Feature Shoot in 2014, “As with child stars, some [dogs] are just born with patience and the will to please that help them deal with the long process involved in creating a creative grooming piece.”
According to Nathan, however, the work often doesn’t end after the dogs have been groomed, since stylists can also choose their own outfits to play up their pooches’ looks. “When the dogs are presented, the groomer is often dressed to match the animal, and there is a set or backdrop where the animal is presented,” the snapper said.
Still, neither extreme dog grooming nor extreme ironing arguably put their participants in real danger. They act in contrast, then, to hobbies that are more thrill-based – and which therefore have the potential for serious physical and criminal consequences. Take train surfing, for example – an adrenaline rush for some but simply a necessity for others. So, what exactly does the peculiar hobby involve?
Well, in essence, train surfers just hang onto the outsides of locomotives and ride along. In some places, individuals get involved because they don’t have the means to pay for a ticket or because the trip has already sold out. Regardless of the reasons behind it, though, train hopping can cause serious injuries if participants fall off. The activity also poses the risk of electrocution and collisions with railway infrastructure, approaching trains or other dangerous obstacles.
Other people, meanwhile, have taken up train surfing – also known as hopping or hitching – for thrills. This particular version of the hobby first came to be in the 1980s in South Africa before catching on in other locations. And in Brazil, a total of 150 train surfers met their ends in 1987 alone – a scary statistic considering the activity’s popularity among teenagers.
Then, in the 1990s, train surfing arrived in Europe and became an activity enjoyed by its younger population – especially those who live near rail lines. And while the hobby had lost some of its popularity by the new millennium, in 2005 a train-surfing group in Frankfurt, Germany, aided in reigniting interest in the dangerous sport.
It’s worth noting, too, that social media plays a huge role in keeping train surfing in the public eye. British YouTuber Harris Ahmed shared a video of his risky ride online, for instance, with the resulting clip going on to gather more than 20,000 views. Yet, as the 18-year-old admitted to Vice in 2018, he hadn’t initially conceived of riding outside the train; he had simply been inspired in the moment.
“I’d bought a ticket and everything; it wasn’t even planned,” Ahmed explained. “It’s a feeling that you can’t describe. It was adrenaline-pumping. It was excitement – a rush – and then I thought, ‘Why not film it?’” And the teen isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for the sport; 16-year-old train surfer Owen also told Vice that the practice gives him a thrill.
“You’re just pumped up. It relieves a lot of adrenaline,” Owen said. And he added that, with practice, he’d figured out the physics behind train surfing too. “It depends on the space you have. If you have a lot of room to spread out your body weight, then you can hold yourself, but if you’re in a space where there’s not, you have to hold on,” Owen explained.
Still, both Owen and Ahmed have had to face consequences as a result of their risky antics. Police once arrested Owen after he had surfed atop a London bus, for example. And on a separate occasion, he apparently received a conviction for endangering the safety of another individual after hitching a ride on the outside of a train in the English capital.
For Ahmed, on the other hand, it was actually his YouTube video that got him into trouble. One week after he posted the clip of his train antics, you see, police showed up on his doorstep. “My parents weren’t happy; they were shocked,” he admitted. “I didn’t tell them. They found out about it from YouTube.”
However, the lack of tolerance from police when it comes to train surfing apparently comes with good reason. Indeed, figures from the U.K. show that 8,000 people participated in the sport within the country’s confines in 2016 alone. And that number is especially alarming when you consider that young people such as Owen and Ahmed seem to be particularly fond of the dangerous hobby.
Still, Owen remains steadfast in his choice to train surf. “I’m not harming anyone else by doing what I’m doing,” he said. Even so, the train-surfer would probably be better off picking another pastime – one that definitely doesn’t pose a threat to anyone. Take Murray’s unusual hobby, for instance, which doesn’t really put him in any peril.
According to Murray’s YouTube channel bio, he has been a farmer for more than 25 years. Initially, he had both tended to wheat fields and raised cattle, although he later gave up the latter pursuit. And perhaps it was this decision that allowed the Canadian to free up more time for what he describes as his “radio-controlled hobby.”
Since 1995, you see, the Saskatchewanian has invested in “a large fleet of construction equipment models” from Germany. And according to Murray, most pieces feature “12-volt electric hydraulic functions, [while] some models use linear actuators for function as well.” Not only that, but he has also spruced up many of his remote-controlled tools himself.
“The models are mostly kits that I have built and modified to my liking,” Murray reveals on his YouTube page, adding that some of his mini construction equipment was “scratch-built by [himself] as well.” But the farmer hasn’t just created a hoard of tiny building mechanisms for aesthetic purposes; instead, he has a very specific use for each of his miniature models.
Yes, the purpose of Murray’s construction collection – which includes tiny excavators, mini dump trucks and pocket-sized bulldozers – was to help him to excavate his basement. And he’s not the first to have embarked on such a mission. Many homeowners with crawl spaces under their floors decide to dig deeper into the earth to make space for normal-sized rooms, in fact. But typically, large projects like this would require quite a bit of manual labor – not to mention high-tech equipment.
And Murray did indeed start his project this way, as he had first grabbed a pickaxe to take down the basement’s east wall. When this method proved to be too dusty and dirty, though, he changed to using an air chisel hammer – a tool that is built to cut through stone and split metal – to tackle the space. Then, in the end, it was time for a different strategy: using the miniature vehicles, of course.
According to news.com.au, Murray describes his use of remote-controlled construction equipment as his “hobby, [his] escape from everyday realities – nothing more.” But as he added more and more models to his collection, he presumably realized that his little pastime had the potential to achieve much bigger results.
And so Murray set about honing his craft. He practiced and practiced to improve his “dexterity in both hand and eye coordination,” which in turn allowed him to begin coordinated digs and dirt removal – all using his miniature machines. He would have plenty of time to acquire even more building skills, too, given that the project would end up continuing for over a decade.
“I can better judge accuracy at a good distance from me. I can [mentally] picture several different scenarios of how to best tackle a project [and] make a better plan for success, lessening the chance of a costly failure,” Murray said to news.com.au. It turns, out, too, that his construction project has armed him with multiple transferable skills.
“I’ve learned some different welding techniques used in my hobby that I have also applied in my job of farming. And some specialized tools that I have bought for my hobby and then later used them too to fix my farm equipment myself,” Murray went on. That said, his building project hasn’t always been plain sailing.
On YouTube, Murray describes some of the trials and errors that he’s experienced throughout his basement adventure. In a comment on one of his clips, for instance, he says, “I’ve had a few wrecks from broken driveshafts on steep grades.” Apparently, he also flipped one of his mini bulldozers once as he used it to “push dirt out [of] the window.”
But, overall, Murray’s venture seems to be a successful one. His videos have garnered quite a following to boot; his YouTube channel, LittleGiantsConstrCo, has roped in around 11,000 subscribers since he started posting footage in December 2007. The clips he has posted, moreover, have amassed more than seven million views in total.
And Murray’s videos are pretty engaging. Viewers can watch his fleet of tiny remote-controlled machinery slowly remove miniature loads of dirt from around his basement. After that, pint-sized dump trucks carry the dirt from the floor, up a spiral ramp and out of a window onto a pile of already discarded earth. But what exactly have Murray and his mini machines achieved during his 14-year project?
Well, Murray’s smart remote controlling has helped him move a whopping thousand cubic feet of dirt from the basement of his southwest Saskatchewan home. And he believes that with that effort, he has been able to expand the size of his cellar by around 30 percent – just by using toy tools.
But while Murray’s feat may be impressive, you may yet wonder whether the farmer ever finds his construction work tedious. After all, his project has spanned several years; it looks pretty painstaking, too. Regardless, the Canadian apparently refuses to make the job any easier for himself. Although he could operate his scaled-down construction equipment from, say, a comfy recliner upstairs, he’s not inclined towards such a hands-off approach.
Still, one question remains. As Murray’s basement project is now nearing its end, what does he have in store for the future? Well, Murray’s next endeavor will continue to incorporate his remote-controlled equipment. This time, though, he’ll take his models onto the farm.
Murray’s barn, for starters, could certainly use an update. “The one thing I’m looking forward to about the barn is the much bigger area. And it’s flat, too, which will work better for bigger, more powerful [remote-controlled] models,” he explained to news.com.au. But that isn’t all that he pictures for the future of his farm shelter.
“I might dig a pond in there with some river channels for tugboats [and] barges… We’ll see,” Murray added. And for his many subscribers and fans, said plan likely comes as great news. According to the Daily Mail, one follower even thinks that Murray is the “top [remote-controlled] excavator operator” and “darn good with his other machines, too.”
Still, Murray didn’t take up his hobby for the online attention that it has earned him; instead, it was the Canadian weather that initially forced him into the project. But what started as a tiny idea has turned into a giant success. His mini models have enabled him to totally transform his home’s underground space, after all, and they’ll hopefully one day help him fix up his barn, too. “Winters are long – gotta have hobbies,” Murray says on his YouTube channel. And safe pastimes are always worth the time.