2005 Sidewalk of Horror pt 3: Halloween & Aftermath

I’m a light sleeper. Monday morning I awoke when the lawn sprinkler system went off at about 5am. That’s when I remembered that I’d never turned off the system for the front yard. This would be the first test as to just how water-proof the structure would be. As it turned out, it weathered the sprinklers without incident. Unfortunately, it did serve to make the ground around the rebar stakes soggy and loose. Some of the stakes began leaning outward under the tension of the pipe arches. Still, everything held together.

I took Monday afternoon off for two reasons. The first was that I was absolutely exhausted and really needed some rest. Building the tunnel was certainly one culprit, but not the only one. The other reason was that Ben would be going trick-or-treating for the very first time and I wanted enough time to get everything moved back out to the tunnel and still enjoy time with the tadpole.

Regional radar showing us in the path of a big storm.Unfortunately, the early predictions of rain on Monday also looked to be coming through. By mid-afternoon the wind was blowing in sustained gusts of at least 20 mph and dumping stinging rain. You’d think that I would have been in a panic, wouldn’t you? There was a good chance that it would be too wet for trick-or-treaters. Maybe we’d a few die-hard groups, but it sure didn’t seem like ideal weather for walking door to door. I felt remarkably calm. Whatever happened would happen. Despite all the work, building the tunnel was also fun. It was the realization of a dream, and I got to enjoy it even if my audience was limited to a few soggy, sugar-craved kids. Of course, it may have helped that I’d had a mental monologue earlier in the day when I noticed someone who seemed unhappy at not wining the office costume contest. I mean, geez. Do it because you enjoy it. If your emotional satisfaction is dependant on external forces then you’re in for an unhappy life. I got a lot of satisfaction from building something that I knew was cool. If the storm blew a tree over and crushed the tunnel, then so be it. (Assuming nobody was in there, of course.)

Local radar showing a bad storm on top of us.Fortunately, no trees were harmed in the making of this holiday. Although I’ll say it was touch and go for the tunnel at times. One cotton guy-wire running from the tunnel exit (the end nearest the house) to a nearby tree snapped under the strain of the wind’s fury. Once that happened, that entire side of the tunnel started to lift off the rebar stake. So strong was the wind lifting up the tunnel that it pulled up from the ground one tent stake holding down black plastic. If I hadn’t stepped outside to check on things when I did, the whole tunnel might have twisted itself apart. I quickly grabbed some spare nylon rope like we’d used at the tunnel entrance. Braving the rain, I wrapped one end around the trunk of the tree and tied it to the pvc pipe arch terminating the tunnel. This required me to push the pipe back down onto the rebar stake, where it stayed without incident the rest of the night.

Ben the Builder, holding his pumpkin, hammer, and mommy.By 5 pm-ish the rain had stopped. The cold, biting wind had not. Still, there was trick-or-treating to be done. “Ben the Builder” had a job to do! We left shortly after dark and walked down one end of our street. We stopped at maybe 6-8 houses total. Although Ben wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, he marched right along and seemed to have fun. During the entire 30 minute walk, we encountered maybe three other groups out trick-or-treating. I told them about our haunted sidewalk, and we got home just in time.

First a few groups came, then more and more. “Tween” girls screamed. Kids laughed. Little toddlers no older than Ben braved the tunnel without much fuss. It seems like my decorations struck just the right level of scariness. We gave out probably 6 pounds of candy. The tadpole had just as much fun helping to answer the door as he’d had trick-or-treating. By 9 pm, most of the kids had come and gone. A few older teens stopped by in no costume and a grocery sack for candy, and that’s when I knew it was time to tear down. The kiddos were home in bed, and the gouls and goblins were starting to come out. To make matters worse, the wind was really picking up again. In this photo, you can see the caution tape being blown almost horizontally.

Tunnel entrance just before tear-down. You can see a pair of tombstone cutouts, fake spiderweb, jack-o-lanterns, and wind-blown yellow caution tapeI didn’t want to leave the tunnel up another day, because in all honesty it wasn’t a very attractive thing from the outside. Kindof a big black blob on the front lawn. Next year I need to work on decorating the outside and making it less of an eyesore. Teardown went relatively okay, considering I was doing it by myself at night in the cold. All the decorations had to come inside, then I had to take wiresnips and cut the plastic zip ties holding the Christmas lights to the ceiling. With one last zip tie to go, I cut into a wire and was treated to sparks and a sharp pop. Yes, I’d left the lights plugged in. They were half my light source!

With the lights and decorations out of the way, I took down the guy wires and lifted the pvc pipe arches off their stakes. The whole thing came down pretty easily. However, this was my one mistake (okay, other than cutting into the Christmas lights) that cost me another 15 minutes. I should have taken the ladder and cut down the “spine” bracing the arches before I took the structure down. Now I had to do it in the dark by touch. I started at the street end of the sidewalk, cutting the support loose and rolling up each arch forward to the next one, which I would then also cut free from the spine. Rinse, repeat. It was slow going, since the spine was under a layer of black plastic.

Once I finally got the spine cut free, I dragged the entire bundle around the side of the house and onto the back porch. I’d cut the arches free and sort everything out another day. For now, it was out of the front yard. It took a few more trips back and forth to get the rebar stakes, tools, and whatnot, but eventually everything was put away or at least out of sight. With a feeling of satisfaction, I crawled into bed at around 10:30 pm. Mission accomplished.

Aftermath: Lessons Learned

Tunnel with using flash. Good shot of the skeleton. The tombstone fell over.Architecture: The pvc pipes were just the right tool for the job. They proved sturdy under less than ideal conditions, yet flexible enough to form the tunnel. Zip ties were a great way to keep it held together. None of the ties broke under the strain of heavy winds, and in fact the tunnel’s saving grace was probably its flexibility. Guy wires are a necessity, as is string spanning the arches to help the tunnel maintain its shape. Now that all the pipes have been purchased and cut, the most time consuming part will definitely be the hanging of the black plastic (which will have to be replaced every year). The plastic worked well in that it was waterproof, lightweight, and never tore. The downside was that reinforcing it with duct tape, poking holes in it for the zip tie, and lashing it to the pipe frame was a time consuming process. Ideally, I’d like some material (and it must be black) with built-in grommets that I could just hook onto the frame. For this to be viable year after year, I want to be able to put up the entire structure in the space of a few hours. If anyone has any ideas, please shout out. I’m looking at 500+ square feet of material, so it also needs to be somewhat inexpensive.

Tunnel interior shot with 3 second shutter. The streaking lights at the top show how much the tunnel was shifting in the wind.Lighting: Christmas lights worked pretty well for interior lighting. I ran another string of Christmas lights along the lawn outside the tunnel to light a “scaredy cat path”, but I’m afraid some people may have gotten tripped up in them. A better solution would be some landscape lights to light up the lawn. The tunnel entrance could have used some lighting, as well. People found their way through it anyway, but I think one or two red-tinted landscape lights would have been ideal. The battery-powered pumpkin light turned out to be really neat. It was comprised of five Christmas light bulbs that would blink in a random pattern. The pair of C batteries had no problem keeping them going, and the effect was quite realistic. Since I’d only bought one, the other pumpkin had a tea light in it and it only put out half the illumination. I’ll be looking for another one of those gizmos next year. They’re both safer and more effective than a candle.

Decorations: For the amount of space I had, I think the decorations turned out just about right. Someone stole the arm that I’d hung from the cauldron. See what I mean? I’ve been on the other end and know that some targets are just too tempting. That arm probably ended up in somebody’s mailbox. I’m just thankful that’s the only thing taken. I can afford to lose a $7 fake arm. I would have been more upset if someone had walked off with my gargoyle or the skeleton. The lesson here is to either stick with cheap decorations (and I got a lot of mileage out of that $1 dangling spider) or have someone in the tunnel to keep an eye on things. Next year it might be fun to experiment with more things hung from the ceiling. With the wind as strong as it was, there’s no way the cauldron would have worked even if the dry ice hadn’t literally gone up in smoke. While at the party store I’d seen a smoke machine for $50 that produced a ground layer of fog. That’s probably closer to what I need, but even that wouldn’t have worked in the wind we had that night. So maybe the lesson learned there is that fog is only for indoor use under carefully controlled conditions. That’s a shame, too, because I spent probably $24 on dry ice. Next year maybe I can run an aquarium hose and bubble stone into the cauldron for a bubbling water effect. Then I can put in some floating plastic bugs or something.

And that’s about it. I hope you enjoyed this Halloween report. Over the next week or so I may be revisiting the report and adding bits and pieces I forgot as I was writing this. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.

For the sake of navigation, you can find the construction guide on Page 1 or notes on decoration on Page 2.

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