A dim light casts a glow over the plywood walls of a West Shore workshop. Dale Davies stands in the yellow light, a black leather vest providing little warmth over his blue t-shirt in the cool fall air. But his eyes sparkle like twinkle lights as he pulls back the lid on a tub to reveal the brightly coloured bulbs it contains. He points to several more neatly stacked on shelves.
He collects discarded strings of lights, the kind that fill garages collecting dust and forming knots that many have long since abandoned any attempts at untangling. Davies collects these old lights, carefully breaking them down and recycling the pieces.
Some would call it a labour of love. Davies laughs and calls it a lot of work.
“It’s all stripped by hand,” he says as he stands in his workshop besides two large spools of copper wire salvaged from these strings.
If he succeeds in collecting enough, Davies and his grandsons will try to build the world’s largest snowman made of copper wire.
“Where else in Victoria can you build a snowman?” While he says no current record for such a creation exists in the Guinness World Records book, he figures it will take them at least another year to collect and roll enough wire to have the record added.
“It was just to see how much I could get,” he says. “You might as well shoot for the stars.”
But now the project has taken on a whole new level. “A lot of these lights, especially the old school ones, were going to the dump.” He shakes his head as he speaks. “This is the stuff they can’t recycle (as is).” Concerned about how many strings were ending up in the dump, he began focusing his efforts on collecting them, breaking them down and recycling the pieces.
He’s created hand-shaped blocks with grooves to help strip the plastic casing away from the precious copper wires that he’s outfitted his shop with. When he has enough for a load, he takes all of the discarded bits and bulbs to the dump to be recycled. His first trip was a bit of a learning experience, he says with a laugh. Upon his arrival, staff informed him that the roughly 30 garbage bags he had brought needed to be sorted, which was quite the process.
Now he’s properly prepared when he makes that trip, sorting as he goes. But it’s not just strands of lights he collects, he’ll take almost anything containing the precious wire, as long as it’s not too small or too big.
“My fingers pray for extension cords.” He laughs as he wrings his hands. He hasn’t kept count, but estimates 500 strings at least have gone through the process so far.
It’s a process that could also be considered therapy for Davies, who has had six back surgeries and suffers from chronic pain. “This just keeps my mind busy and off the pain … Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
When he’s been on his feet for too long, he takes his work inside. He takes his tub filled with shorter pieces and sits or lays in front of the television while he painstakingly splices the bits and pieces into one long line. This part of the operation requires a technique comparable to braiding. His fingers work feverishly over the thin wires, twisting them upwards and over, tying a knot and braiding some more.
Previously spooled lines sit glistening in the dim shop light before being added to the two large copper balls resting on a small wooden table. The heavier of the two, Davies estimates, weighs almost 300 pounds while the smaller one tips the scales at just over 100 lbs.
Under the table, which sags slightly in the middle with the weight, are two more tubs filled with copper fluff. This metallic material is actually pieces of wire too small to be spliced together – their texture gives the illusion of copper-coloured hay. Davies hasn’t quite figured out what to do with these bits, but he’s working on a way to incorporate them into the snowman’s arms.
He predicts the final result will weigh around 1,100 lbs. “But then I forgot the hat,” he says with a grin. Every snowman has to have a hat.
Davies’ grandsons Tristen, 8, Linden, 7, and Jacob, 3, come running into the shop, possibly more excited to see what progress has been made than their grandfather. The cousins bounce excitedly as they examine the balls and shriek with joy when they discover pennies inlaid to keep tension in the wire.
“I’m the one that rolls them,” Tristen says, looking particularly proud of himself. “This is the one I started.” He points to the bigger of the two balls. “It’s hard.”
The boys love spending time with their grandfather and are excited about “being in the Guinness Book of World Records,” the youngster Tristen. Another grandson, Jace, 10, who wasn’t there on that particular day, is also lending a hand in the family’s project.
Even if they don’t succeed in creating a record snowman, the attempt will be worth more than the weight of copper.
To contribute unwanted strings of lights or old cords send an email to email@example.com.