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First the man cave, then cross-dressing

  • Story Highlights
  • Man builds man cave, loses 65 pounds in the process
  • Of all the man cave tales submitted to, this is first to include a dress
  • Bar of man's dreams is "magnificent"
  • Dress committee sews two dresses together to fit the loser of the bet
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By Ann Hoevel
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(CNN) -- Like most stories that end up with a man mowing his friend's lawn in a dress, it started out innocently enough.

The dress

Craig Harrell takes a quick break for the camera while fulfilling his end of the bargain.

Not long after Robert Klein began working on his man cave, his friend Craig Harrell paid Klein a compliment. He noticed Klein was looking trimmer since they'd last met. As Klein continued to slim down, they made a bet: Whoever could get down to 200 pounds first would be the winner, and the loser would have to mow the winner's yard -- in a dress.

Klein started building his man cave in Pasadena, Maryland, so he could have the bar of his dreams and a home theater. He worked on his basement for more than a year and ended up losing 65 pounds in the process -- more than enough to win his bet with Harrell. and got an overwhelming response when we asked readers to send in photos and stories of their man caves: spaces that foster men's hobbies, decorating skills and technological needs.

Some of their stories were so outrageous that we decided to profile a few of them. Klein's man cave, however, was the only one to combine dramatic weight loss and cross-dressing, so we had to give him a call to find out more.

Klein said his friends wanted to talk about two things while he was building his man cave: how his amazing bar was coming along and how they thought Harrell would lose the bet.

The bet was popular with everyone Klein and Harrell knew. Their wives even started a dress committee, to make sure the loser was appropriately attired, and their kids delighted in the prospect of seeing Dad in a dress.

To lose weight, Klein said, Harrell played golf and cut out chips, while he adopted a balanced, calorie-restricted diet and spent at least six hours a day on the man cave, which took most of his free time. Klein did all the electric wiring, worked on the framing and put three coats of paint on all the walls and ceilings.

He attributes his weight loss success to replacing TV-watching with hard work. "I lost at least 10 pounds on the painting alone," he said. "My neck was sore for weeks."

Klein knew he couldn't build the kind of man cave he wanted all by himself, so he contracted out some of the big jobs, like cutting a hole in the foundation to add 6-foot-tall French doors to the side of the house in place of a window well, and finding someone to do the woodwork on a custom bar he designed.

Although he started out with a carefully planned budget, Klein quickly found that he needed to spend more money to make his dreams a reality. The hardest part, he said, was finding someone who could build his bar for a price he could afford.

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After some disheartening estimates (one was $65,000), Klein found Lyle Delfosse, a local furniture maker who had built libraries in the Watergate Hotel in Washington and constructed a chair for a U.S. Supreme Court justice over his long career. Now 76 and retired, Delfosse told Klein, "I can build anything out of wood."

Klein said Delfosse was true to his word, and they didn't go over the initial estimate of $19,000, although he said Delfosse told him "if he had it to do all over again, he'd have charged double."

Klein calls the bar "magnificent" and said that when people come over to see it, they feel underdressed. Video Watch's Reggie Aqui talk to man caver and iReporter Rob Klein »

Convinced he'd saved money by doing a lot of the work himself, Klein splurged on a new sprinkler system. The bet he'd made earlier in the year was on his mind, and he wanted to ensure that the grass in his front yard would be nice and green once the weigh-in arrived.

At the height of summer, Klein's man cave was finished, and he decided it was time to step on the scales. Harrell was 208 pounds, and Klein was 195. At the party Klein threw to show off his new bar and theater, Harrell was ready.

With some help from the dress committee, Harrell became Klein's newly acquired, frock-sporting landscaper.

The wives had sewn two pink strapless dresses together to fit Harrell and then layered on accessories like a bow-topped headband and a corsage. All decked out, Harrell graciously mowed Klein's front yard, with 80 people cheering him on.


Somehow, as Harrell was mowing, Klein's new sprinkler system went off, soaking Harrell and his dress. In a phone interview, Klein was coy about who the perpetrator might have been.

These days, Harrell has his own man cave, complete with bar. Klein points out that his bar is nicer but says he's got his buddy's back: Harrell's wife thinks a dishwasher would be a practical addition to the man cave, but Klein is trying to convince her that the keg refrigerator Harrell wants is a good idea. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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