Phantasmechanics Home Haunt for 2004
with some cool stuff you can copy for your own haunt

We're haunting our home again. I'm not affiliated with a pro haunt at present, and though we didn't have much of a budget for it, we wanted to put on a modest show for the neighborhood. Our house sits on a 60' x 127' lot, so we have a pretty wide stage. Since we are dealing with passing vehicles as our audience, and since there is a lot of interest in the Disney Haunted Mansion, I chose the hitch-hiking ghost theme as a tribute to both facts this year. I also used 2 of my new prop designs in the display. The back story is that these ghosts have been visiting us, but are now anxious to get to Orlando for the festivities on Halloween night.

Left to right, the props are:

* Traditional FCG rig with hitching right hand (in window)

* Pop-Up - made with Toro lawn sprinkler pop up device (placed behind tombstone)

Making this pop-up is really easy! The cool goth tombstones came from Michael's, and they are glued to 2x6's, and are also attached with screws through the bottom of the wood base. I hammered a single stake in the ground, drilled a hole through the base, and screwed a cable clamp u-bolt tightly onto the top of the stake where it comes through the base. This makes them a bit harder to steal. (If you have problems with theft, carry them inside every night. They're very light.)

The moving device is a Toro 12" sprinkler pop-up unit hacked to work as an air actuator. Go buy one from Home Depot, and proceed as follows:

Unscrew and remove the little red plastic cap on the top. Unscrew the top of the unit. Inside there is a long spring. Cut the spring off so that the end of it is just above the level of the case. Take out the piston, and you'll find a little plastic ring sitting on the bottom. This keeps the piston always facing one direction - you'll see how it works if you play with it. Since we've reduced the spring tension by cutting off some spring real eastate, it's a good idea to get some duct tape or masking tape and wrap it around the piston just above and touching this 'guide washer' thingie. This will ensure that your pop-up head will always face forward. (You see what we've done here, right? We've eliminated the need for the scissor-jack apparatus that is used in many of today's pop-ups.)

Now, while in Home Depot, go th the plumbing department and find a brass cap with male thread that will fit onto the top of the piston. The thread pitches will not match, but that doesn't matter - it will seal anyway. Before you mount the cap, drill a hole through the cube-shaped top large enough to accomodate a small machine screw. Simply mount the cap in a vise and drill through as straight as you can with a hand drill. Take your time, and lubricate the work with WD-40 or milling lubricant. This is the most difficult task in the project, but you can do it (treat this as a lab assignment at college, if need be.)

Put a bolt through the hole, as shown in our picture. Mount a bracket to hold your chosen skull or head (more homework.)

Now, choose air fittings to feed in at the bottom of the apparatus. Add a solenoid valve and control system... (even more homework.) On a weekly basis, lubricate the piston with Vasaline, as a wear-reducer on the cap O-rings.

...and voila! For under $100 you have a pop-up that won't destroy itself in a year. Note that these work on 70-80 PSI, and are not meant to run violently at high pressures. They move smoothly, and won't trash the pop up head or the apparatus itself. I've had them running virtually every night in October, and they still work quite well. (They fire every 15 seconds, and stay up for about 1.5 seconds a pop. They do use a larger volume of air than 'real' actuators - the only real drawback.)

* The doorway niche has a floating candelabra driven by a FCG crank. The power unit sits on the ground, and is heavy enough to counteract the weight of the plastic candelabra prop. The power take-offs on the crank washer run through two pulleys stationed fairly close together, so that the candelabra leans one way as it rises and the other as it falls. It is suspended by upholstery thread and cuphooks. (Actually, I saw this idea on another imagineer's website - for which I have lost the URL. I'm not sure if the FCG inspired it or not - cranks are everywhere!) The spider webs are purple UV-glow off-the-shelfs from Party City, lit by a screw-in fluorescent spiral blacklight in the overhead downlight fixture. I got the log face on the door from Spirit Halloween Superstore.

* Spectator (new prop) floor standing ghost which rises and falls while turning its head to follow cars (in window - to be a new kit for next year, with more features)

The picture makes almost everything clear. Obviously, the tricky part is bending that flat into a smooth spiral. Go slow and take your time. Also, lube the spiral well with moly automotive grease for less noise and jerkiness. We're working on a simpler mechanism to turn the head for the kit version.

* Another Pop-Up made with Toro lawn sprinkler (#2 of a pair)

* Hitcher prop (in window - currently available kit)

We have a huge spiny succulent planted in the midst of our curved driveway, and it always makes me think of Little Shop of Horrors - I call it Audrey III as a joke. With this in mind, I took a cheap skeleton draped with shreaded cheesecloth, sprayed it with oil-based stain mixed with water - giving it a nice gruesome coloring - and hung it on the front of the plant. The sign completes the intended joke. The whole thing is lit from below with a 100 W blue spotlight. Why so bright? We're competing with an orange sodium vapor lamp on a utility pole. All of the props had to be overlit to 'read' from the street. The results aren't all that bad.

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