A Grove City STEM star

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
The first recipient of COSI’s STEM Star Award went to Grove City resident Justin Walls for his hand-crafted and custom-made vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle that has garnered international attention and acclaim. Shown in this photo at the far left, Walls was presented with the award for his achievements in the field on Sept. 15 alongside COSI mascot RATiO, Mayor Richard “Ike’ Stage and COSI Vice-President Stephen White.

There is a preconception, says Jaclyn Reynolds, that achievement in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics field is primarily taking place in laboratories throughout the world.

“We know that to be false because our lives are constantly being touched by advancements that are not just being made by scientists in labs,” said the director of communications for COSI.

In order to try to alter that widely-held assumption, the science museum and research center recently announced a search to find those in the region who are making an impact in the STEM field in ways one might not ordinarily imagine.

Upon hearing of this quest to find a local STEM star, officials with the city of Grove City knew immediately that they had to nominate resident Justin Walls for their consideration.

“He is an ultimate craftsman,” said Don Walters, the city’s business and communications officer.

The city’s first experience with the native fabricator took place a few years ago when they experienced a major issue regarding the Christmas display.

“Our Nutcrackers, we found, were not capable of withstanding major gusts of wind,” Walters said.

Knowing that Walls had something of a reputation for “funky projects,” chief building and zoning official Michael Boso recommended Walls for the job.

“He fixed everything and it’s thanks to him that we have these safe Nutcrackers on display each year,” said Walters.

While the Nutcracker project was largely what introduced many in the city government to Walls, it was his recent and acclaimed work on an antique motorcycle that made them nominate him for the COSI STEM Star Award.

As the son of an owner of a diesel shop, Walls spent much of his childhood helping his father and gaining expertise in how automobiles work. Along the way, he developed a love for racing vehicles, particular vintage motorcycles.

“Somehow it just became my passion,” said Walls, a 2006 graduate of the South-Western Career Academy.

Nearly 10 years ago, he opened his own business, BTTW (Built the Traditional Way), and has made a name for himself specializing in crafting and improving antique motorcycles.

“It’s a really hard thing to get into, and not just because it’s expensive,” he said with a laugh. “You have to gain the respect of the old timers.”

Three years ago, Walls was invited for the first time to show one of his custom bikes at the Born Free Motorcycle Show in California. His 1927 Harley won Best Competition Motorcycle.

“I thought that one was a little underappreciated,” he admitted.

The following year, he was once again invited but turned it down due to time constraints.

“It takes a lot, and a lot out of you, to build your own bike,” he said.

Earlier this year, he was once again invited to participate and believed he had something truly special to work with.

“A friend of mine had this old, very rare motor, and wanted me to build around it,” he said.

Having always wanted to build a motorcycle for land speed racing, he decided to build a bike that paid homage to the 1937 Harley Davidson Knucklehead made famous for its unusual design and for racer Joe Petrali.

Using only the motor and photos taken from a museum in North Carolina, Walls hand-crafted the motorcycle using new technology to recreate the rare parts. The process took nearly four months. The results, however, were something he never dreamed.

“I am so shocked and humbled by the attention this bike has brought me,” he said.

After taking ‘Best in Show’ at the Born Free event this year, he was invited by event sponsor Mooneyes to take the 1948 Harley Davidson motorcycle to Japan for additional showcases. He has also been featured in many international magazines and is set to take the bike to Utah next year to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Walls said he has been in a state of disbelief since unveiling the motorcycle and was floored when he was informed by the city that they were nominating him for the COSI Stem Star Award.

“To be recognized by the city you grew up in is pretty awesome,” he said.

He added that he was honored to be named one of the first recipients of this award for his achievement in the field.

“Our industry is sort of lacking, per se, because we don’t get kids as involved,” he said. “I think that by doing things like this, we can show what is possible in this particular field.”

As a recipient of the COSI STEM Star Award, Walls will be a grand marshal at the first COSI Science Festival, which is slated for May 2019.

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