Chuck’s Corner August, 2006
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” my wife asked me the other day. She was inquiring as to why I had several sections of our neighbors’ old wooden fence on our back porch. “Positive” I replied. “Watch this…” With a click of my mouse, one of the slats in one of the sections swung upwards until it was almost horizontal and then snapped back down to its original position. It repeated this motion several times before I was able to stop it. “Hmm, maybe 80 PSI is too much pressure” I thought to myself.
Yes, it’s that time of year again at Chuck’s House of “What are you doing NOW?” And just what time is it? Why, it’s “Get ready for Halloween” time, of course. You see, while anyone can go to Walmart and buy a plastic skeleton and a Styrofoam tombstone, NOT everyone has an animated ghost floating in their front window or a rotting corpse that pops up out of a barrel of embalming fluid and spits it all over unsuspecting observers. (OK, technically I don’t have the rotting corpse thing – yet - but I’m working on it and should have it ready by October 31st.)
Perhaps I should explain…
Last year I ran across a site on the Internet that showed how to build a floating ghost. It looked pretty easy to construct and didn’t require a lot of parts or special tools so I thought I’d try it. The result was so impressive that I decided to try a few other projects that involved props that move. Before long, I had scavenged a bunch of old bicycle pumps and screen door closers and was merrily making a variety of common objects behave in a variety of uncommon ways.
One of the kids’ favorite props is the “Pop-up Pumpkin”. This is just a cheap plastic pumpkin that I got at Walmart. What makes it unique is that I mounted it on top of an old bicycle pump and stuck the assembly inside an old garbage can. I then ran a tube from my compressor to the bicycle pump and, when air is applied, it pops up out of the garbage can and screams and scares the daylights out of little kids. Hahahahah! Even Jack likes this one. Every time it pops up he attacks the garbage can and barks furiously until the pumpkin retreats back inside.
Another fun prop is the “coffin-jumping dead body”. I know I need a better name for this prop but I think it’s pretty obvious what it does. I made it from an old screen door closer and a cheap plastic skeleton that I got, oddly enough, at Walmart. Of course, the skeleton had to be somewhat “modified” to make it look like something other than a cheap plastic skeleton that I got at Walmart. This was accomplished by the use of carpet glue, paper towels and a variety of wood stains. The cool thing about this project is that it will scare the daylights out of larger kids. Hahahahaha!
My latest project, which I haven’t named yet, is the one I mentioned at the beginning of this column. I saved a section of my neighbor’s fence that was blown down during a hurricane last year and I’m trying to get one of the boards to kick out a few inches at the bottom. Then, I’m going to have a cheap rat that I got at, uh, Walmart, pop out of the opening to scare the daylights out of people. Hahahahaha! (The rat has been modified with bright red LED eyes and is quite creepy looking in the dark.)
If you’re interested in trying your hand at making an animated prop for Halloween, there are a number of sites on the Internet to help get you started. I can save you the trouble of Googling through all of them, though, and just tell you which one is the best: it’s SpookyBlue.com. They have a large variety of projects, instructions, tips and links to a bunch of other useful sites.
Fortunately, many of the projects can be constructed out of items that you already have lying around the house or can pick up at a garage sale. If you have kids, you can send them out to patrol the alleys in the neighborhood and alert you to any potential “prop material”. Of course, once you get started, you’re inevitably going to find that you don’t have things like high-pressure tubing, flow restrictors and 3-way solenoid valves lying around in the garage. That’s when you’re going to have to go to Grainger and actually buy something. Other than that, you’ll find that a little imagination goes a long way when making your props.
And now, I’ve got to get back to my fence. I only want to scare people passing by – not decapitate them! Maybe if I lower the pressure to 40 PSI…Hey! Jack! Get back here with that rat! BAD DOG!
If anyone knows where to get a 55-gallon drum of embalming fluid, let me know at ChucksCorner@ComCast.net.