By Megan Paulson
Explore Big Sky Staff Writer

BOZEMAN – After 16 years of working as a professional river guide – six seasons on the Colorado River, and a year guiding government research teams in the Grand Canyon – Todd “Mad Cow” Maynard was sick of skirting big water. Scientists continually asked him to “cheat” the rapids for fear the boxes holding their instruments would get wet. So Maynard decided to make his own dry boxes.

Mad Cow Metal Works specializes in custom aluminum welding and fabrication, custom dry boxes, raft frames and panniers for boating, recreation, and outfitting industries. Officially formed four years ago, Mad Cow’s high quality, durable containers have already made a name for themselves.

“Traditional dry boxes don’t stand up to the use and abuse of outfitting,” Maynard said. “I knew there had to be a better way to do it.”

Mad Cow uses 100-gauge aluminum to make what they call the toughest, most reliable dry boxes on the market; Maynard notes most traditional dry boxes on the market today are made with 80-gauge aluminum. He also uses robust can-jar latches, full-length stainless steel hinges, and rubber gaskets on all his boxes.

Everything Mad Cow Metal Works builds is made in Montana: They source and shape the aluminum in Belgrade and fabricate the boxes at Mad Cow’s workshop in Four Corners, where Jim Carli, the company’s co-owner and welder, completes fabrication and showroom aesthetics. To wrap up the process, all boxes are finished and packaged for shipment in Maynard’s home at over 8,000 feet on Bozeman Pass.

Carli was originally Maynard’s welding instructor. Later, when they crossed paths again, the teacher was inspired by his student’s quest to create high quality boxes, and they ultimately joined forces.

Mad Cow builds one of the industry’s largest Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee certified boxes – approved for use with professional outfitters in Alaska and anywhere in the Lower 48 where grizzly bear-proof boxes are required. Testing for IGBC certification is intense and rigorously monitored, requiring that bears actively test the box “hands on” for one full hour.

Additionally, Mad Cow contracts with a variety of government entities and oceanic research groups who use the dry boxes to house computer equipment and electronics. Each box is powered by solar panels, floating on buoys connected to a platform in the ocean.

“It’s crazy to think the boxes are literally floating in the ocean, keeping important data dry,” Maynard said. “But that’s exactly why I wanted to build them the way I do – so strong and reliable that anyone can use [them].”

With standard and custom sizes available, most clients use Mad Cow boxes for practical purposes: rafting, ATVs, trucks, horses and bicycles, and any other use you can imagine. And most of their orders are custom; on average the team crafts and ships 10-20 boxes every two weeks.

Maynard says he’s confident in the product. “This is the last dry box you will ever buy.”

This article is adapted from one first published in the June 28, 2013 issue of EBS. For more information, or to order a Mad Cow Metal Works dry box, visit madcowmetalworks.com.