Boy develops fanbase by filming elevators
by Staff Writer
Eleven-year-old T.J. Burns is a rising Internet star.
Known on YouTube as T.J. Elevator Fan, he has developed a large following by filming elevators throughout the Charlotte region. Since joining the streaming video website in November 2009, T.J. has uploaded 799 videos, which have been viewed more than 800,000 times. He has 632 subscribers.
He’s also launched a website, TJElevatorFan.com, which gets visitors from 27 states and 10 different countries. T.J. updates his fans via Facebook and Twitter when he uploads new content.
So what does T.J. make of his success?
“I think that’s just great,” he said with a grin.
T.J., a fifth-grader at Lake Norman Christian School in Huntersville, doesn’t have much time during the week to film elevators. That’s what makes weekends and holidays so much fun.
He’ll go online and research where elevators are located, whether in hotels, office buildings or shopping centers. Charlotte residents Jeff and Julie Burns then take their son as far as Mooresville to film.
They’ve ridden elevators at the Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Sleep Inn, Springhill Suites and Townplace Suites. He and his dad were especially impressed with the elevator at Re/Max at the Lake.
“That was kind of a neat find,” T.J. said.
While most people take elevators rides for granted, T.J. likes to identify the manufacturer of the elevator and its fixtures. He’ll also describe the paneling, buttons, lights and other things that make it unique.
His favorite elevator is at Davidson College’s E.H. Little Library. It’s an old Otis with Lexan fixtures.
When T.J. was born, doctors told Jeff and Julie that their son had a hole in his heart, and he would need to bulk up to 8 pounds before he could undergo heart surgery.
“He was not getting there because it was taking all of his energy just to breathe with a heart defect,” Julie said.
Finally, the heart surgeon told them that they would need to start thinking about going through with the surgery, anyway. The couple asked the surgeon what the rate of survival would be, but he told them that he didn’t like to give percentages because there’s always going to be the one in the 1 percent category.
Worried T.J. was in that category, they asked the surgeon what he would do if T.J. was his child. The surgeon replied that he would go through with the surgery.
Jeff and Julie nearly lost T.J. four times as doctors tried to take him off the ventilator following the surgery.
T.J. eventually turned the corner. He began physical therapy when he was just 6 months old.
By the time T.J. turned 3 years old, his physical therapist realized that he liked riding elevators. So she used rides to motivate him to continue repetitive exercises to help build his strength. Even though he’d tire easily, a few extra reps meant he could ride the elevator, Julie said.
Once he turned 8, T.J. didn’t need weekly physical therapy sessions anymore. Having mild cerebral palsy and slightly impaired vision hasn’t kept T.J. from making all A’s last year or filming elevators.
“He’s a miracle from God,” Julie said.
A few years ago, T.J. put a password on his laptop but couldn’t remember what it was. So he searched for a video on YouTube to help him unlock his computer.
While there, he decided to search for elevators to see what he would find. He happened to stumble upon several videos, including some from a YouTube user known as Diesel Ducy. The rest is history.
T.J. convinced his parents to take him to Roanoke, Va., so he could visit some of the elevators Diesel Ducy had featured in his videos.
“He wanted to film those same elevators as a tribute to his hero,” Julie said.
T.J. later got the opportunity to meet Diesel Ducy, even filming elevators simultaneously alongside of him.
Diesel Ducy has also showcased a couple of T.J. Elevator Fan’s videos on his YouTube channel, which helped T.J. get more exposure. After all, Diesel Ducy’s videos have generated more than 18 million views.
“There is actually what they call an ‘elevator community’ on YouTube,” Julie said. “There’s about 200 members that are just enthralled by elevators.”
Despite making so many videos on the topic, T.J. dismisses the notion of a ride becoming routine.
“I don’t get tired of riding them,” T.J. said. “I like elevators!”