JUNEAU — Patriotism comes in many forms. For some, it can be as simple as an American flag pin on a lapel or sticker on a bumper. For another, it means constructing a 7-foot-tall flag out of wood.
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, David Walko, 69, decided to display a flag on the side of his barn in Juneau as a show of support for his country.
“When 9/11 happened, of course everyone started displaying flags,” Walko said. “I took my flag and draped it on the barn door. That was 2001.”
The flag hung on the barn for the next three years. Naturally, the western Pennsylvania weather was not kind to the flag, and it began to tatter.
“(My brother-in-law) Howard (Beezer) said to me, ‘We ought to do something more permanent. It’s neat having the flag up there, but it’s sort of sacrilegious to have it up there the way it looks.’ And I agreed.”
Walko, a retired biology teacher of 42 years, had taken up painting several decades earlier as a hobby to fill the downtime of the summer months. He suggested to Beezer, 72, that they create a long-lasting, three-dimensional painted image of the flag to replace the tattered cloth flag.
Walko and Beezer constructed the flag in 2004 using slats of plywood and painted them with a high-gloss oil paint. First, Walko’s barn door was painted brown with a rectangular section of white as the flag’s backdrop. Red slats were added for the red stripes, and a section of blue after that. Rather than cut out 50 individual wooden stars, Walko and Beezer purchased glow-in-the-dark stars and painted them a glossy white. The 4ﾽ-foot-by-7-foot flag was mounted on the barn door with a seam down the middle where the blue section separates from the rest of the flag. This allows the door to be opened so Walko can get his tractor in and out of the barn.
The flag was again repainted in 2009 and requires upkeep roughly every four years. This means repainting, re-caulking and re-gluing all the parts of Old Glory.
The most difficult part of this recent restoration was repairing the bottom of the door, Walko said.
“It rotted out somewhat because of moisture collecting on that bottom board,” he said. “Water and ice will run down the white and lay there and cause the wood to rot. Now what I’ve done to prevent this from happening, I’ve put little pieces of quarter round along the bottom. So now when water runs down the white area of the flag, it’s not going to lie on the little ledge. It’s going to run off.”
Walko said he prefers using oil-based paints because they stand up better to the weather, meaning fewer repaints and repairs. He said he avoids the water-based latex paints because they tend to fade in a short time. The oil also gives the flag a high sheen that lasts a long time.
“It’s real impressive, especially at nighttime,” he said. “Because you come down the straight stretch, and the barn is about six feet from the road. So as you’re coming down the road, your headlights will hit it.”
The difficulty with using oil-based paints, he said, is that it is against the law for stores to sell oil-based paints by the gallon. Walko must buy the colors and primers he needs by the quart. The most recent project required approximately six quarts of brown paint for the door, one quart of blue paint, two quarts of white paint and a half-quart of red paint.
“I think it will last another four years now,” Walko said. “I shouldn’t have to repaint it ‘til around 2017. But time will tell.”
Anyone wishing to see the flag can find it by taking Route 119 north, then turning right onto Juneau Road before reaching Punxsutawney. Walko and Beezer live on Ida Mae Lane.