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Day: November 14, 2012

A scream and a smile


Jim Baker, Brandon Guthrie, Faith Baker and Charles Baker with their scarecrow that was part of an elaborately decorated haunted home Halloween night. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Anyone who drove down McLeod Lane Northeast on Halloween night probably noticed the smoke cloud wafting across the street.

If they gave the house it was coming from more than a passing glance, they might have noticed the creeper popping up from behind a gravestone in the front yard.

If they stopped for a second, they might have heard the thunder timed to match the flashing lights high up in the tree. But it was trick or treaters and their families who got the whole show at the home of Charles and Faith Baker.

The whole show included everything above and: a coffin with raising lid and a skeleton popped out (the lid slammed shut several seconds later to scare those that lost interest and walked away); a garage with a floating blue ghost and candelabra plus a box with a two-way mirror that revealed a demon mask when the light came on behind it; and a series of four pop-up heads that included Pinhead from Hellraiser and an alien with light-up eyes. Those especially attuned to their surroundings might even have noticed a recording of the original soundtrack to Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

“It started when I was in grade school. My dad was an electrician and it was a flasher and a colored lightbulb. Then it was on and each year it got bigger and bigger,” said Charles.

Charles Baker works the arm of an animatronic snowman he constructed with Brandon Guthrie at the request of Baker’s granddaughter. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

The haunted house isn’t something the Bakers put on every year. Most of the time, Charles is out on jobs with his brother Jim and employee Brandon Guthrie as part of their work with the family-owned Terra Electric Construction, but they decided at the last minute to pull out all the stops for Halloween.

The various attractions are mostly the result of Charles’ love of tinkering. He built a shop in the rear of the house where most of the work takes place.

“Someone would give me something, like an old rotisserie motor and I would make it into a rocking headstone,” Charles said. “It’s a matter of using some of my trade and making things happen.”

For a piece like the floating ghost, the main engine driving it is a simple gear mechanism attached to some pulleys that move up and down as the gears turn. He washed cheesecloth in Tide detergent to infuse it with phosphates and hit it with a blacklight to create luminescence.

Other pieces evolve over time. The pop-up heads, for example, are on their third generation of homemade cylinders.

“He’s to the point where he’s calling the distributors to find the perfect controls and then he has to learn to work it because none of us are trained to operate them,” Guthrie said.

Once he figures out how to use the controls at home, it opens up other avenues for the work he does on the job.

Faith sticks to decorating the inside of the house, but has been called upon to use her artistic skills to paint some of the display pieces that make their way into the yard.

If pressed, Charles might admit the reason that he decided to step up an do it all again this year was the urging of his granddaughter, Savannah, a frequent co-conspirator.

She was sitting on the couch last year and told her grandfather that it was time to do something for Christmas.

“We need a snowman,” Savannah said.

Charles thought, Sure, that’s great. He said, “We can do that.”

Then Savannah dropped the other shoe, “It needs to move.”

“Things got a little bit harder after that,” Charles said.

Still, it didn’t stop him. By Christmas, Charles and Guthrie had created an animatronic snowman that he expects will be up again–in even better form–this year.

As for why he goes to all the effort for a single night of fright and fun, Charles answers without batting an eye.

“I do it for a scream and a smile. It’s knowing that people will talk about it and maybe people we haven’t seen in a while will drop by,” he said.