Craftsman’s whimsical whirligigs much in demand

MILBRIDGE — Whirligigs— the fun-to-say lawn ornaments which are equal parts whimsical and mechanical, are a bit of a rarity these days. But drive past 44 Main St. and you will find the colorful constructions planted in front of the striking Victorian home of Dave Schoolcraft.

Dave started crafting the whirligigs a few years ago as a hobby to enjoy during his retirement. He also was looking for projects to stay busy following the death of his beloved wife, Judy, in 2019. 

“People keep buying the darn things,” Dave said with a laugh in a recent interview. It was a sunny and breezy day, perfect for powering the moving parts of the whirligigs that decorate his yard. 

Five years ago, Dave and Judy Schoolcraft moved to Milbridge from Syracuse, N.Y. Judy had dreamed of living in a Victorian house and that dream was fulfilled in the form of the classic clapboard home on Main Street. She has since passed away. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTOS BY REBECCA ALLEY

He said his drive-by customers’ favorites are a woman washing clothes and a man sawing wood.

“Those I can’t keep out there,” he said. 

To make the whirligigs, Dave uses plans ordered online, modified with his own tweaks developed along the way to improve their construction.

“They were prone to breakdowns,” he explained of the initial plans. He bore bigger holes in the wood to attach the moving parts, which helps when the wood swells on rainy days. He added silicone grease to keep parts moving.

Stainless steel or brass hardware is used to connect pieces together.

The mechanical aspect of constructing the whirligigs is what truly appeals to Dave.

“My life’s work has been that type of thing,” he said. Making a labyrinth of cuts with a band saw is second nature.

While making whirligigs is a relatively new venture for Dave, the skill required to build them is not. He spent decades as a finished carpenter, including time operating his own business in his home of Syracuse, N.Y. 

 The downside of his constructions?

“I really don’t like painting,” he acknowledged.

One piece, a rooster, required ten hours of painting. Painting includes applying a coat, or in some cases, two, of heavy exterior primer before brushing with a coat of brightly colored acrylic paint. The average time it takes to build and paint most whirligigs is ten hours. 

If that rooster, along with a man working on a car, are sold, “Once they are gone, they’re gone,” Dave said, noting the intensive labor required for his one-of-a-kind designs. 

Dave sells most of the whirligigs for $80. Customers drive up to his house and can call his phone number listed on the whirligig and he will meet them to complete the sale.

The labor-intensive rooster and man with a car are priced at $100. A couple of models; a flying duck and a man paddling a canoe, go for $40.

In the future, Dave may start taking orders.

It was about five years ago that Dave and Judy — who had been married for 49 years — moved to the house in the heart of Milbridge. Fifty years before, Dave had spent time in Maine while stationed at the Dow Air Force Base in Bangor.

“I always kind of liked the area,” he said of the Pine Tree State. So, when he retired, he and Judy packed up and found her dream house along the Maine coast. He set to work on their new home, which previously had stood vacant for about nine years, while Judy ran her Mainly Cats gift shop on Route 3 in Trenton next to the Wild Acadia Fun Park. Five years later, he still is working on the classic clapboard built in 1896. The house boasts a wrap-around porch and bold roof peaks. It has four bedrooms, five including the finished attic.

“It needed a lot of work being vacant for quite some time,” he noted. 

His work has included remodeling the home’s two full bathrooms, finishing the countertops in the kitchen with chestnut, building kitchen cabinets, adding cabinets to a grand Hoosier cabinet and working on the house’s exterior railing. 

For the railing on the front porch, “Everything from the top of the railing down I had to rebuild,” he said, which included recreating the intricate moldings all himself.

The process, which didn’t come without injury, was “very hard on my fingers,” he said. “I ran them through a router.”

“But after a skin graft or two, everything was fine,” he added. 

The home is filled with keepsakes and mementos of the couple’s life together, including enough books to fill a library.

An avid reader who regularly attended book sales, “My wife was kind of a pack rat,” Dave says with a smile.

Attached to the house is Dave’s workshop, also known as “the whirligig factory.”

One whiff and you detect the scent of freshly sawed wood. Tools, acquired over many years working as a finish carpenter, fill shelves lining the walls. 

It is a home Judy dreamed of owning.

“She got her old Victorian,” Dave said, surveying their grand home.

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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