ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
by Don Ratzlaff
The Free Press
Admitting to a bit of self-interest, a busy Marion businessman has stepped forward to contribute his time and skill to a park-improvement project in Hillsboro.
Gene Winkler, owner of G&J Video-and related enterprises-has volunteered to cut out the 50 or so animal silhouettes that soon will “hide” in Memorial Park for the entertainment of children who play there.
As part of a plan to enhance the old park, Martin Rhodes, building inspector for the city of Hillsboro, hoped to mount animal silhouettes in trees with a sign that would challenge children to find as many as possible.
The only problem was finding someone to make the silhouettes.
Meanwhile, Winkler had recently purchased a computerized metal-cutting table with which he hoped to start a sideline business in silhouette art.
When Winkler saw an article in the Free Press about the park improvements and animal silhouettes, he formulated an idea-and got some hometown encouragement to pursue it.
Winkler said: “I had about three different people come to me and say, ‘Hey, did you see that in the paper? There’s a chance for you to get some of this stuff out and start making it.’
“I thought, ‘Well, that’s a good deal,’ so I called (Rhodes) and he came over and told me what he wanted to do,” he added. “I figured I could do that.”
The two men agreed that the city of Hillsboro would pay for the 12-gauge metal-about $100-and Winkler would donate his time with the hope of getting some publicity for his efforts.
“The publicity, I think, will be a big help to me, so people know that I actually do this,” Winkler said.
Winkler bought his machine, called a Plasma Cam, about two months ago as a way to use some available space in his building on Marion’s Main Street.
“I like to work with wood, so I got into woodworking and bought a bunch of equipment to put back there (in the shop area),” Winkler said. “Then this deal with metal cutting came up and I thought that would be a neat thing to do.”
With the new set-up, Winkler can scan desired art work into his computer. A software program outlines the art and converts the outline into cut lines. Guided by the computer, the designs are then cut out of 12- or 14-gauge sheet metal with a “torch” that uses compressed hot air.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of time,” Winkler said of the work he is doing for the Hillsboro park. “The biggest deal is scanning in all of the animals.”
Winkler said he thought he’d have the 50 or so animals-each about 12 inches by 18 inches-cut out by the end of this week.
From there, the cutouts will go to Hillsboro, where Rhodes and his crew will weld on brackets to attach the cutouts to trees, and then paint them a flat black.
Rhodes said he was thrilled with the arrangement.
“If we can’t spend $100 on this project we better quit,” he said.
Rhodes added that as soon as Winkler produces the cutouts, he and his crew will do their part to get the animals mounted in the park as soon as possible.
“As we get eight or 10 done, we’ll go ahead and attach them into the trees,” Rhodes said.
“We’ll use the electric company’s bucket truck to put these things high enough in the trees so that people will not steal them, and we’ll be using a special clutch-head screw that not everybody has a screwdriver for.”
Winkler, meanwhile, said he hopes his work for the city of Hillsboro will jump-start his new business outlet.
He said silhouette art has numerous applications. He’s already cut letters for a new business in Marion and has had several local people talk to him about possibilities for gate ornaments and home decor.
Winkler hopes to find outlets beyond local customers, too. He said he plans to check out the possibility of supplying western silhouettes for stores like Sheplers in Wichita.
“Who knows what kind of business it will work into?” he said.