Wagon ho! University Place employee creates art piece

brynn.grimley@thenewstribune.comNovember 7, 2013 

A seemingly inconspicuous corner at Chambers Lane and Chambers Creek Road will get a visual upgrade later this month.

The overgrown, sloping land that’s home to a handful of rhododendrons and a smattering of cat’s paw will soon display a handmade buckboard — a wagon with 18th-century origins.

The 12-foot-long, 6-foot-wide cedar wagon with 40-inch steel wheels will adorn the busy corner by mid-November.

Gary Cooper, University Place’s director of Public Works and Parks and Recreation, built the roughly 1,000-pound replica in his garage. He moved it to the city’s Public Works shed last week.

That’s also when he approached Mayor Ken Grassi, asking if the city would accept a donation of art to help with beautification efforts.

“I wanted something we could plant on and make it a landscape feature,” Cooper said. “I kind of see this as a piece of art.”

In the 18 years he’s been with the city, Cooper has driven by the corner countless times. Every time it bugged him.

“For years I’ve thought there needs to be something there, some sort of landscaped feature,” he said.

The wagon isn’t the first donation Cooper has made to the city. Other pieces include the metal fireplace grates in the city’s civic building.

His love for metal and woodwork started in high school with the encouragement of a metal and woodshop teacher. He built the buckboard not because he wanted to build a wagon, but because he wanted to see if he could make a wheel.

“I wanted to see if I was as good as a caveman,” he teased.

Cooper “doodled” the design on a piece of scrap paper from the recycle bin beside his desk, dusted off a math book from the shelf and transferred the design to a whiteboard in his garage.

He used a simple math equation to craft the wheels, cut the axles off two old trailers and added cedar siding. The wheels are “not perfectly round, but they’re pretty close,” he said.

They roll, and that’s what counts.

Cooper wants to place six half-barrels on the bed of the wagon and use them as planters.

“We can go through and change out the flowers seasonally,” he said. “That way it will make it colorful year-round.”

He also hopes to place large landscaping rocks to help keep the wagon in place.

When Cooper approached Grassi about his idea, the last thing the mayor expected was to see a large wagon reminiscent of another century parked at the Public Works shed.

Noting the attention to detail and the spoke wheels, Grassi said Cooper’s wagon is a piece of art.

“This thing is amazing,” he said. “I certainly didn’t think of something as large and showy as what he made.”

Now that he’s proved he’s as good as a caveman — and freed up space in his garage — Cooper is already thinking ahead.

“I proved to myself I can do it,” he said, “so now I’ll move on to another project that I am sure will show up on the city’s rights of way one of these days soon.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 brynn.grimley@thenewstribune.com

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