Still in the midst of my whirlwind ride to the quota, I give you the next post in the 2011 Halloween Party series. This post (and the next in the series to kill the suspense) pertains to my quest to improve what I affectionately call the Haunted Trail. It started last year when a number of people wanted to see the nearly finished state of Serenity (link here). After talking about all the work it took to design and, a lot of my party guests were hoping to walk down to it. At the time this posed a slight problem since there was no power that far away from the house and even though there was a maintained trail to it, navigating in the dark was even difficult for myself (I am still apologizing for the group of people I managed to get lost in a ravine that year). Long story short, I purchased some solar lights to help navigate the path and decided to put up one of the new PVC ghouls and a sound activated witch to entertain the hikers. That turned out pretty well, so one thing led to another and plans were put in motion to improve it for this year.
The first task was to find ways to decorate the path without the use of power. The path is fairly long as well so decorations needed to be cost efficient. For about a week a number of brainstorming sessions were held generating a number of ideas… some good… some awful and some too ambitious – I should probably mention that there was another requirement in the mix – it had to be something I could do within a week. It is quite obvious that somewhere in my past life I wronged Father Time. Against all odds there was one good idea that appeared to fit the bill. All that was left was to find the materials at a reasonable price. With fingers crossed, Linda and I went to a local Dollar Store to see if there was anything there that could be used for the new decoration. While scouting around the store, we stumbled on some mini foam pumpkins a little smaller than a Nerf football. Carving is in my blood, they appear to be hollow and they are only ONE DOLLAR a piece. Linda must have seen the wheels turning and rolled her eyes while 10 of these babies quickly made their way into the cart. I’ll save the details for the original decoration idea for later.
Once home, it was time to see if these pumpkins were actually carve-able. If not, there was still value as a simple hanging decoration that could be placed randomly around the path. There wasn’t time to mess around with the formal pattern making so went old school on it. A few derivatives of triangles for the eyes, another altered one for the nose and a classic tooth mouth was all investment needed for the first trial. A quick trip down to the basement for a an experiment with the Dremel brought a huge grin to my face. Sure enough, the pumpkin was indeed hollow. It was definitely cheaper than the ones used for the official pumpkin collection in that they were thicker skinned and had porous foam. It also had a white interior where the more expensive ones were tinted orange. Carving wasn’t as smooth as the cutter had to go a lot deeper to make it through and the foam gaps kept pulling the blade off of the intended path. The first pumpkin ended up taking about 30 minutes trying to get comfortable with the speed required by the Dremel and the amount of force needed to push it around the pattern. The good news is this was doable and if I got through 3-5 a night it would be done in plenty of time. Here is how one of them came out:
Hit the jump to read more about this fun and inexpensive decoration
As you can tell from the picture, the cuts are a little rough and the white inside is pretty noticeable. The seam was also pretty visible and it was significantly thicker in that area. In truth, the more expensive versions are also thicker where the seam is. The true test was how they looked at night. Knowing that there wasn’t an option for power, it had to be lit by something battery operated – or one serious glow stick. Having had success last year with the battery tea lights in the PVC ghouls, I was hoping this would work for the pumpkins. A quick freehand Dremel hole in the bottom would prove out this theory.
Although definitely biased here, I thought it turned out awesome. The problem with the white foam was solved with the use of an orange tinted tea light and the outer skin coating was thick enough to keep the light from coming through.
So, for $1 for the foam pumpkin, a $0.33 tea light (also bought at the Dollar Store in packs of three), 20 minutes of my time and after 10 pumpkins a dull Dremel cutter left over from the real pumpkins, we had a worthy decoration for the trail.
For the next 3 nights I worked my way through the pumpkins. Since the old school method was so fun and brought back fond memories of free handing directly on real pumpkins the rest of them were also done without patterns. In fact, I reused a lot of the early patterns as elements in these new pumpkins. Note, it was pretty obvious after the first few that the simpler they were, the easier it was to carve. That led to fairly smooth lines and reuse of proven cutting angles. Here is another example:
You can tell the teeth were more of a struggle, but it has a realistic flavor since cutting good teeth in pulp was also a struggle in the days of a sharp steak knife instead of a Dremel. This one actually turns out a lot more dramatic once lit.
Come to think of it, the foam leftovers even look like the old pulp fragments you used to get with real pumpkins. The tea light didn’t get properly placed in this particular shot, so you can see the orange tint on the light which compensates for the white interior.
There was a small task left and that was figuring out how to hang them in the trees. Turns out this was pretty easy. I had previously purchased fishing line to put up in Linda’s den as a display tool for all the dog’s show ribbons. This would work nicely for these decorations since they are invisible at night. Rather than waste a lot of time on this part I found a piece of wire and poked it through the pumpkin stem, fed the line through it and tied it in a big loop. You can actually sit it in the second picture above. Once that was done, I simply zip-tied it to low hanging branches along the trail. My free-handing the bottom holes resulted in some being slightly too big to hold the tea light on their own. This was solved with some black tape to make sure they stayed where they belong. This might be improved next year through the use of Velcro, but for this year it worked perfectly since the darkness hid the tape anyway.
So there you have it, a cheap, easy decoration anyone old enough to use a Dremel can make. A word of caution. Only put the Dremel at half speed and do not force the cutter through the material. Let it move at its own pace or the foam will literally melt onto the shaft of the Dremel bit. It can be removed with a file (and really must be in order to move the blade up and down through the thickness of the foam without over widening the cut) but that just wastes time.