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Whirligigs receive maintenance check, cleaning

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From an elevated scissor lift, artisans Joe Justice and Mel Bowen rotated the unicycle wheel to scrub grime from 16 blades on the Carousel Bomber at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park on Wednesday.

With a power sprayer and sponge mop, they washed away mold, mildew and grime from the metal surfaces.

“This one hasn’t been addressed in four years,” Justice said. “It’s not that dirty, but we want to make it look a nice as we can.”

According to Justice, this is the first attention some of the pieces have received since the park opened on Nov. 2, 2017.

“Some of these have been in the park six or seven years without any attention,” Justice said.

It’s taken about three weeks to complete maintenance and a general cleaning on the 30 whirligigs in the park.

“Most of the cleaning just involved getting the mold and mildew that had grown up under there over the years and probably a lot of it was just pollen that stuck. It’s going to stay there until you wash it off,” Justice said.

Some of the work involved re-greasing some of the sculptures’ many moving parts.

The whirligigs were originally built at Simpson’s farm near Lucama. Moving them into Wilson exposed them to more wind, which has created new maintenance challenges.

“On Vollis’ farm, they were pretty much in the low part of the county surrounded by trees,” Justice said. “The field was about two acres, but it was surrounded by a lot of tall pines and some deciduous hardwoods. Here, they are at the highest point in the county. They are standing out to the wind, so we have had to learn through trial and error that some things just weren’t made to stand the high-velocity winds.”

Solving the problem might involve replacing bearings or rebuilding the whirligig with thicker aluminum or steel parts.

“It’s not like you can go to school and learn how to work on whirligigs,” Justice said.

All of the whirligigs have pivot points.

“They pivot on either a bushing or a bearing, just a point on a rod or wheel hubs or something,” Justice said. “We do have one that’s just not performing like we want it to and that will require us probably in cooler weather just to pick it up a little bit and see exactly what’s going on.”

The Hoops whirligig has stopped turning.

“Everything turns on it when the wind hits it, but it’s not turning into the wind,” Justice said. “And we are trying to figure out exactly what is happening. We are going to have get a big crane up here to pick it up. It’s probably something simple as a rock in between the two surfaces that glide on each other.”

Simpson made the piece where it turned metal-on-metal. The artisans replaced the metal with Teflon.

“There are about four more that we would like to replace the reflectors on, but that will come at a later time,” Justice said. “Early on in the project, we wanted to keep everything as original as possible and later on, we decided to just make them look as good as we can, so we started replacing all of the reflectors. There are still a few older reflectors in the park, but we will get around to it.”

Artisans have temporarily removed the CBS/NBC whirligig.

“That was a complicated piece and I don’t think it was ever balanced really well,” Justice said. “We basically just put that back together and painted it a little bit and left all the old reflectors on, so we have taken it down and we are going to completely rework it and make sure it’s balanced well. On some of those pieces, blades in particular, we had to beef it up a little bit because it just couldn’t handle the wind.”

For the power washing, Justice said the cleaning agent of choice is Dawn dish detergent.

“We know that commercial Dawn is good for ducks,” Justice said. “It won’t hurt them and it does a good job of cleaning. If you look around, there’s a lot of ducks, so we don’t want to hurt the ducks.”

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