The Iowan

Adding Animation

By J. Michael Sanders

I was recently asked to add the “Christmas Market Pyramid Booth” to Jeanne Freeman's Alpine Village display, and was surprised to discover that the horizontal wind vanes on the top were not motorized. Ah, I thought, animating this piece would make a fine afternoon project. If you would like to give it a whirl (pun intended), here is a step-by-step description on how it was accomplished. (Jeanne's Department 56 displays have been featured in several past columns.)

First, a warning: Making this modification could damage this piece; possibly even shatter it into pieces. So unless you are a risk taker, I would not try this project. But if you are careful, you can be the envy of other Alpine collectors. 

To begin, carefully cut the metal rod that holds the faux-wood blades to the top of the piece. Remove and save the round ball from the top of the rod, as well as the clear washer. Push the original wire rod (that is left protruding from the top) into the piece. Now, here is the first tricky part. Using a sharp, 1/8 of an inch ceramic tile drill bit, enlarge the hole at the top. Rest the piece on a thick folded towel or foam rubber piece. Drill straight down into the old hole on the top. If you have a drill press, use it —you will have better control and are more likely to drill the hole straight through and stay level. Apply minimal pressure. Do not force the drill. Once you have made it through the top, there is an intermediate ceramic piece inside, about 3/4 of an inch down, that you cannot see. You have to drill through this too. Again, apply minimal pressure and make sure that you keep the drill bit straight, so you do not damage the rounded area on the top. Once you make it through this hidden piece of ceramic, turn the unit over, locate the center, and drill a hole through the bottom. Take care not to allow the drill bit to go too deep inside, lest it get tangled up with the wires for the light. 

While I was drilling the top, the smaller ball shape chipped off. So, I used a Dremel rotary grinding disc to even the top. Then I mixed up a bit of ceramic paint to match the top and touched it up. With the three areas drilled through, I took an 18- gauge metal rod and passed it through from top to bottom. Wait to cut the rod to length when you know how long it needs to be, to connect it to the motor. 

Locate where (on your display) the Pyramid Booth is to be located. Spot where you drilled a hole in the bottom of the piece and cut a hole through the base material, so the holes lineup. Devise a way to support the motor under the display at this time. All this should be easily accomplished if the display top is made of Styrofoam™, as I have often recommended in this column. 

Now, remove the motor so you can work with it. Cut a 1 inch length of plastic or rubber tubing that will fit snugly over the motor shaft. Wrap the metal rod with electrician’s tape until the rod (wrapped with tape) can be inserted into the tubing and fit snugly. With the metal rod secured to the motor, insert the motor with the attached rod from underneath the display, through the hole you provided earlier, and secure the motor.  

Place the Pyramid Booth over the metal rod where it protrudes up through the display base. It may be a challenge to get the rod to go through the second and third hole, but be persistent. It may help to shine a flashlight down the hole so you can see the metal rod as you thread it through. Once the booth is settled on its base, turn on the motor to verify that the rod does not bind on anything, especially the Styrofoam™, as it will make an annoying squeaking sound. When you are satisfied with the placement, turn off the motor. Cut the metal rod so only about 5/8 of an inch protrudes above the top finial. Next, push the clear washer down about 1/2 of an inch from the top of the rod, then the vanes. Finally, place the round ball cap at the top of the rod. Use a touch of hot glue to secure. Leave adequate space between these elements so the metal rod won't bind. That is it. Now go impress! 

Have a question or comment? Please write to me at Until next time — Happy Villaging! 

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