Buy Something Impractical

Circa 1992. I was in college. Having grown-up in a small town, I used to drive around exploring Los Angeles and marveling at how different the city became when traveling only a few miles. Being in the northern part of the county, I was fascinated by Vasquez Rocks, a relatively short drive (~30 minutes) north along the 14 freeway. The history of the place, both as a hideout for the Vasquez gang and more recently the background for every alien planet in b-movie sci-fi history, was captivating to an aspiring filmmaker.

One trip up to the rocks, however, changed everything. Exploring a little further along the 14 north, I drove past the small town of Acton. Nestled next-door to the McDonalds was a place called ‘The Barnyard’, a collection of movie props, mostly focused on western aesthetics- old stagecoaches, wagon wheels, assorted fiberglass horses, and, gleaming like the city on the hill, a giant, white chicken. I immediately pulled-over and tried to see it up close. To my chagrin, it was locked and a sign on the gate stated it was available “by appointment only”. I took down the number and tried to call to buy it several times. I even drew the sketch below of said chicken mounted atop my school dorm (again, circa 1992).

Side note: Weird California tracks the location of giant chickens!

Fast forward to the end of 2018. The family and I were driving north along the 15, heading for a few days in Vegas. Passing through Hesperia, CA, I again spot a giant chicken along the freeway. We were in a hurry to get to our hotel room that night, but made a point of stopping by on the way back home. It was not a mistake. Main Street Collectors is AMAZING. They recreate and restore lots of cool fiberglass statues, including things like Bob’s Big Boy and Ronald McDonalds, horses, cows, and giant chickens! On that trip, we asked a lot of questions and bought a set of step-stones for the garden that look like a crocodile. To demonstrate why my wife and I make a great team, she said, “maybe we should buy the giant chicken as our Christmas gift to one another”. True love.

List item: Buy Yourself Something Impractical

After the holidays, we returned and bought our mutual Christmas gift, mounted it in the bed of my truck and drove the hour+ back home on a particularly windy day. I was white-knuckled the entire drive. Other vehicles, on the other hand, were taking great delight in the scene they were witnessing- a giant white chicken in the back of a cartoon blue pick-up. We saw lots of cell phone cameras pointed in our direction.

Once home, it was a matter of carrying our new friend down the hill and letting it rest while I figured-out what to do about mounting it. As is the way of my people, it was over engineered. I started by measuring the length and width of the feet to determine how big the platform should be, then we removed a few agaves to make room in the determined location. The required platform was large. 56″x40″.

I dug out a place to make level and began building a form for pouring cement.

I also built a template onto which I’d install the required anchor bolts, but could only find 1/2″x10″ sold at the Home Depot. This meant boring out the bolt-downs attached to the chicken’s feet/metal skeleton and creating special pits for the anchor bolt to be encased in cement deeper than the form (since the platform was 6″ and the anchor bolts were 10″). Finally, to avoid shear and the possibility of the heavy platform sliding down the hill, I installed a couple 8″ in diameter by 30″ deep caissons using sonotubes. To prevent possible cracking/breaking, I then created rebar forms out of some I had leftover from a different project. Finally a use for that rebar bender! It was a little tricky getting the rebar to avoid blocking the irregularly spaced anchor pits.

The form was straightforward enough. I used a laminated piece of pressboard I had leftover from a shelving unit in our garage. Figured that would create a nice, smooth face. For the corners, I wanted to round them, so I attached some thick plastic we had from a halloween costume to some old gallon paint cans, then filled the gap between the form and the can with spray insulation foam. Once it dried, I removed the paint cans and left the plastic as the inside edge of the form. This would have worked well, but something about the cement mix made the plastic curl a bit during the pour and resulted in weird divots in the final cement platform. I need to live with it and shut-up about it or go fill these in someday.

Finally I was ready to pour the cement. I had calculated I’d need a tad less than 22 (60lb) bags of concrete mix. Just before getting the pour started, while preparing the bags in location to be near the mini-mixer, I discovered 5 bags had gotten wet and were now useless. I had *just* enough to meet the calculations with what I had. But no more. Out of desperation, I lined some of the bottom of the form with chunks of previously-hardened concrete from the bad bags. That would decrease *some* volume.

As it turned-out, I had exactly the right amount. To ensure I had enough time to mix and pour the full amount, I mixed it all very wet, which decreased my ability to properly round the edges. So once it was cured and I could strip the forms, I had a little breakage along the edge- naturally right in the front edge that would be the most visible. Some time with a cement grinding wheel on my angle grinder cleaned it up for the most part.

Once the forms were stripped and the platform prepped, Sylvia and I tipped the bird into place, bolted down the anchor bolts, and admired our new backyard centerpiece:

Difficulty: Mixed. On the one-hand, it wasn’t a big financial hardship overall. Mileage may vary. On the other hand, building the foundation was overkill and more taxing than need be.

Lessons learned:

  • Identify what brings you joy – This is in Marie Kondo territory, but there are just things that truly do spark joy. This giant chicken is one of them. I cannot look at it without smiling. It’s so… there. Beautifully out of place. Was it a financially sound decision? Of course not! It was an emotionally sound purchase, however.
  • Display your treasures – It’s pointless to get something that elicits positive vibes only to hide it away. Put it on display! If its a photo or painting, spend for a good frame, make room where you will see it, and add appropriate lighting. If it’s a giant chicken, 1,400 of cement and rebar will more than suffice.