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Balancing work and play

June 2011

Published in the June 2011 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

WHEN JIM BARROWS, PA, RELAXES, he likes to get as far away from his day job as a hospitalist as possible. His hobby “transforming lawn tractors and golf carts into outlandish creations “is about as different from hospital medicine as you can get.

Mr. Barrows, who works as a PA hospitalist at Emory Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital in Atlanta, drives those creations, which he calls "moveable interactive art," in about a dozen parades and musical events throughout the Southeast every year, including Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn. For a recent work, he turned a Sears garden tractor into a giant cartoon woodchuck that glows ” thanks to 2,000 LED lights “and breathes fire from its nose (courtesy of a small flame thrower).

"At night," Mr. Barrows says, "the whole thing glows in a merry-go-round, jukebox sort of way."

In the five years since he started building his creations, Mr. Barrows has built one or two per year. He typically puts between 100 and 200 hours into each.

For inspiration, Mr. Barrows often refers to sketches he made as a boy. "When I was 12 and bored in school," he explains, "I would sketch designs for these crazy cars in the margins of my notebook when I should have been studying."

As a child, he didn’t have the resources “financial or otherwise “to bring his visions to fruition. But as an adult, Mr. Barrows has the resources, the training (including a night course in welding) and the space.

He shares a studio “a warehouse big enough for two tractor trailers “with a small group of artists with similar interests. That allows the group to share tools of the trade, from acetylene torches to welding tools.

When he’s finished with each creation, Mr. Barrows either auctions it off and donates the proceeds to charity, or he dismantles it and saves the parts for future projects.

How did he light upon a hobby that he describes as "silly"? Mr. Barrows says he feels it’s important to strike a balance between work and play. While hospital medicine is a fulfilling career, he was looking for an outside interest that was less intense.

"I’m intentionally trying to be more childlike," Mr. Barrows says. "I think it’s important to have a balance between your profession and your avocation."