The Revenge of Robo-Bear

Two events shaped Troy Hurtubise's life: nearly being mauled by a grizzly bear in 1984 ,and watching the movie RoboCop three years later.

Hurtubise, 37, a former scrap metal dealer from North Bay, Ontario, has since been trying to build a suit of armor so that he can study the largest and most lethal land mammal — a grizzly can stand 10 feet tall, weigh 1,500 pounds and move at speeds of up to 30 mph.

To some, Hurtubise is a cult hero. He's burned through more than $100,000 and gone bankrupt building a 150-pound protective suit of titanium, plastic, chain mail, galvanized steel, rubber and thousands of feet of duct tape.

To test his invention, Hurtubise has been run over by a truck, hit by a moving car, smashed in the shins with a sledgehammer, scorched with flames, and hacked at with chain saws.

In two of the more interesting experiments, he's withstood pointblank blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun and intentionally fallen from the 150-foot Niagara Falls escarpment.

'I've Waited 15 Years for This'

His story was originally told in Project Grizzly, a 1996 Canadian National Film Board documentary directed by Peter Lynch. It grossed more than $30 million. And Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino raved about it.

Unfortunately, after an NFB film crew followed Hurtubise into Alberta's Rocky Mountains, he never got to test the suit. The lone grizzly that showed up just lumbered past him.

Now, Hurtubise will try again. He'll test his seemingly indestructible bear suit against fang and claw on Dec. 9 at some secret location in western Canada.

"I've waited 15 years for this," he told the Canadian Press. "I've tested the suit against bullets, knives, arrows, trucks, logs, rocks and cars to see if I could handle the power of a bear. And now I'll find out against the real thing and see if I can put my critics to rest."

Hurtubise will pit himself and his suit against a 1,300-pound Kodiak bear, a close relative to the grizzly. It's being brought in by an American animal trainer, and will be lured out of its cage with fresh meat. Don't Expect a Fight

Hurtubise might look like RoboCop, but he doesn't want to wrestle bears. He wants to study them. The suit is for protection, much like the steel cage observatories that shark researchers use. Hurtubise hopes to crawl into a den and watch a grizzly mother give birth to cubs.

"We're hoping that when I enter the trigger zone of the bear, it will attack, pin me to the ground and throw me around like a rag doll," Hurtubise reportedly said. "Claws, teeth, ripping at the suit for 10 seconds."

This incredible life mission began when a 19-year-old ninth-grade dropout was panning for gold on Humidity Creek in British Columbia. Down from a mountain meadow came a grizzly that knocked Hurtubise to the ground with a single, solid snout shove.

Lucky to be alive, Hurtubise became a man obsessed. Little is known about grizzlies. They're simply too dangerous to study up close. Hurtubise went back to class and got his high school diploma. He then took courses in "forest recreation technology" at Ontario's Sir Sanford Fleming College and dedicated himself to wildlife research.

But his big breakthrough didn't come in the textbook. It didn't come in field research. It came in the movie theater. When he saw RoboCop — the story of a half-man, half-machine — the idea of anti-bear attire took hold. And as a former scrap metal merchant, he put his professional skills to use.

The Canadian Jacques Cousteau

While he aspires to be Canada's Jacques Cousteau, he's also something of a comedian. In 1998, Harvard University gave him the dubious honor of an Ig Nobel Prize. It's a joke award given to inventors and researchers for achievements "that cannot or should not be reproduced."

Another Ig Nobel winner that year, Peter Fong, a Gettysburg College biologist, was honored for finding that clams reproduce at 10 times their normal rate if Prozac is dumped in the water. The research apparently gave new meaning to the expression "happy as a clam."

At the time, Hurtubise was so far in debt, his bear armor had been repossessed. His creditors were gracious enough to let him take his suit to Harvard so that he could have his moment of glory at the lectern.

But Hurtubise might just have the last laugh. The Ursus Mark VI may have some commercial use for firefighters, policemen, emergency workers, even hockey players. Fourteen years of research and testing might just amount to something, and Hurtubise may ultimately prove he's smarter than the average bear. And perhaps much richer, too. Of course, there's a 10-foot-tall Kodiak waiting for him that might want to prove otherwise.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Thursdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.