Citizens of Japan, beware. There’s a freewheeling invader motoring around the country. It’s big and brown but totally harmless. It’s the L.L. Bean Bootmobile.
The four-wheeled footwear is a massive tribute to the retailer’s iconic gumboot. Now the Japanese version of the shoe is visiting L.L. Bean’s 25 stores in the land of the rising sun.
Marketers at L.L. Bean created the first Bootmobile to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary in 2012. Bean officials say that just like the original boot, the Bootmobile inspires people to enjoy the outdoors.
Since taking its first steps—er, rolls—the Bootmobile has covered over 160,000 miles. It’s climbed New Hampshire mountains, rolled across Kansas prairies, and trekked through Wisconsin wilderness.
Designers had little trouble finding inspiration for the design. They used L.L. Bean’s original boot, first made in Maine in 1912. The hard part was figuring out where to put gas and how to make repairs.
“Not only does it have to look right, it’s gotta go down the road safely,” Bootmobile builder Micah P. says in a video on the company website.
L.L. Bean soon built another Bootmobile. Chief driver Eddie Flaherty enjoys having a pair of boots on the road. He’s heard every boot joke. His favorite is one he coined himself: shoenanigans.
Flaherty says the biggest challenge of driving the huge boot is avoiding low-hanging branches or wires.
Dodging obstacles is tough: The original boot is 13 ½ feet tall! It’s also 20 feet long, and seven feet wide. Both boots have a fiberglass shell.
The second boot is smaller, lighter, and “greener”—that is, it uses biodiesel fuel. Designers also built the newer frame from aluminum instead of steel. The extra-long shoelaces are braided mooring rope (the kind used for boats and anchors). Both U.S. models have the underpinnings of a Ford F-250 Super-Duty pickup.
A third Bootmobile has hit the streets in Japan. Flaherty traveled there in April. He delivered a ceremonial key. The smaller Japanese Bootmobile is built on a Toyota Hilux. This Bootmobile will tour Japan during the summer and fall.
Meanwhile, two U.S. versions hit the road stateside in June, July, and August. The boots-on-wheels will stop at bike treks, adventure courses, store openings, and water regattas.
People are surprised to see a giant boot cruising down the road. But most recognize that the long-lived Bean company and its products stand for hard work, durability, and practicality—qualities that always travel well. That’s no shoenanigans.