We are back with another post covering the creation of this year’s signature piece for the annual Halloween Haunted Trail of Tears event. If you recall in a previous post (link here), I took you through the making of the pumpkins themselves. Although a key component of the overall scene, there were still a number of parts that needed to come together to realize the vision from the original quick sketch.
Hit the jump to see how this early sketch of the arch started coming to life.
The next part to address was the “arch” itself. The ones I had seen in several haunt walkthroughs, Pinterest links and haunt forums all appeared to use a stack system. That approach required a lot more pumpkins than I was willing to make or buy – some of those must have come from very deep pockets. That approach was mostly achieved by vertical stacks on the sides and then one straight across at the top. From day one, my vision was an arch and that obviously implies there needed to be curves. The concept that I was leaning towards when I drew this early rendition was using a PVC frame that would snake its way through the pumpkins. Even from this drawing you can see how the frame would need to exit at various angles to achieve the desired look.
Just a recap, the 6 planned pumpkins were already created and intentionally made as large as I could find beach balls to put the foam on.
Again, just for reference, added a folding chair to give a feel for the size. Ron was always shocked how large the pumpkin set was whenever he saw them in person leading up to the event. Now they were all sanded and the faces cut in them, I could work on laying in that PVC frame.
I should note, that there were a couple of design requirements that were driving the build. First of all, I needed the arch to be wide enough to get my UTV through. The first part of the trail is a bit isolated from the UTV thanks to a small bridge at the back over a feeder gully to the main stream that runs through the property. That means I still needed to get the UTV (hauling props) down the side the trail the arch was going to provide the entryway for. I could raise it up as high as I needed to with the arch supports, but wanted the distance between the two extra large pumpkins at the bottom to be wider than the UTV canopy. Arranged the pumpkins out on the basement floor to start taking measurements. Notice anything different?
There’s an extra pumpkin at the pinnacle. As I laid out the pattern, realized the arch wasn’t going to be as wide as I wanted. Quickly went back to work and created another pumpkin to use as the keystone to the arch giving me the required spacing needed at the bottom of the stack. Then I started roughing in the PVC frame. It didn’t take long to realize getting that frame embedded into the pumpkins was going to be a pain in the ass. Back to the sketchbook. Stared at the floor pattern over and over again, slept on some ideas for a few days and mulled the options while on training runs until deciding that the frame could really go behind it. Guests wouldn’t really see it until their way back out of the trail and if I painted it black it probably would just blend into the darkness. Re-drew the plan to get a count of the connectors required and length of 1.5″ sticks of PVC. Using 45s allowed me to maintain a vertical connection point – using two between layers 2 through 4 produce the required 90 degree bends. Then it was just a matter of adding a T connector to the frame where the pumpkin attaches
Picked up the required PVC materials and went back downstairs to start putting it all together. It didn’t take long for me to figure out my 2D sketch didn’t account for the z dimension. The pumpkins were three different sizes which means their thicknesses were also three different sizes. If I attached them flush to the frame they wouldn’t have the “stacked” look I was going for. More noodling, but this turned out to be an easy fix – put the bottom ones flush to the frame and then use extensions out from the frame to center the increasingly smaller pumpkins.
This proved a bit awkward with one person so I had to use anything I could find to keep them in position while I figured out where the connection point needed to be on each pumpkin. Each pumpkin is unique in shape thanks to how the foam was put on, how much it rose, the sanding etc. That meant each connection point was unique to each pumpkin. Balanced each on the extension pipes, marked it and cut it out allowing me to slip it on – tried to make the hole as tight as possible so it would keep the pumpkin from sliding down – more on this issue later.
Eventually made it all the way around the arch – tried to make sure each pumpkin was touching the ones next to it and they were all level with their counterpoint on the other side. Needed a break from the mental stress of all that, so took a quick detour to cut out the keystone pumpkin. The faces of the other pumpkins took me months to determine – this one seemed like an obvious choice!
Did spend some time to find a (free) font I liked, built a template using Paint Shop Pro (for when I don’t want to deal with the complexities of Photoshop), printed it out, cut out the pattern with an Exacto knife and transferred it to the new pumpkin. A couple of hours later with the hot knife and we have ourselves the crowning jewel for the arch. Now time to start putting the frame to the test.
Stood the frame up, added some temporary legs so it could stand on its own and after a slight catastrophe learned to put weights on the temp feet to keep it from sliding out left and right, The arch columns would prevent that in the final design. One by one started adding the pumpkins on.
How cool is that! I’d could say my revised design nailed it, but that would be a slight fibbing. You might have even been asking yourself, how do those pumpkins stay upright simply hanging off a single 1.5″ pipe. Truth is.. they don’t! They will naturally start to sag – although minimal, there is forward weight so they kept drooping down. There is a better picture of it further down, but inside each pumpkin I added another T connector (that connected to the pipe coming into the back of the pumpkin), That T had a 3/4″ port in the middle that I attached a length of 3/4 pipe with another T connector at the top positioned perpendicular to the larger T at the bottom. The top of the pumpkin then sat nicely on that top of that 3/4 T holding it upright. Yes, each 3/4 pipe length had to be custom measured for each pumpkin. These were friction fit as they had to be put on after the pumpkin was attached.
A quick test of the pumpkin lighting – prior to being painted, so a lot more overall glow than there would be for the final prop. The bottom ones were lit with the lights I had planned to use in the finished prop – just through some small LEDs I had laying around in the other pumpkins. My creation was coming together nicely – had to bring Linda down to show her the progress. What was her awe struck words of encouragement “The little lights are twinkling” .. whoops, sorry, different story – what she said was “How are you going to store that!”. Ummm, “Whoa, geez! Look at the time. I gotta get to bed and brush my teeth, feed the dog, do the laundry, wash the care, still got some homework to do……”.
The best part is I could use the new frame to hold the pumpkins while I painted them – first getting the edges of the cutouts. Stood back after that was done and about had a heart attack – it looked someone cut the heads off the Jack in the Box family and stuck them on pipes – and they were pissed.
Whew, finally got all the painting done. Had to finish painting them off the frame as they were touching each other and I wanted to make sure the paint coverage was uniform. I then hauled the frame outside and painted it black. This shot also gives you a good idea of the stabilizers I put in the middle of each pumpkin – kept those white to match the interior of each pumpkin. Note, you can just barely see a stabilizing paracord that was added between the two sides of the frame (at the second pumpkin level). This addition kept the sides from bending out when I was moving it – also provided tethering points we could use to support it in case there was wind in the forecast.
So, there you have it! The pumpkins are all built (including the new one) and now the frame is ready to go. Stay tuned for part three where I will take you through building the arch columns to raise and help support the arch.