A Michigan hot dog sculpture is one of world’s largest, thanks to the vision of a talented artist, the skills of a spray polyurethane foam insulation crew, and NCFI’s spray foam.
By Jen Kramer
Northern Michigan is famous for breathtaking scenery – sport fishing on Lake Huron, kayaking down rivers, hiking on nature trials, stepping back in time on Mackinac Island, and eating hot dogs under a 63-foot sculpture of a hot dog.
Yes. You read that right.
In Mackinaw City, Michigan a new wonder has been added to the area’s attractions, courtesy of spray foam.
“I sculpted the 30-foot grizzly bear that stands down the street from the Wienerlicious diner,” says artist Ron Berman of Berman Studios, Inc., when asked how his giant hot dog sculpture came to be. “The owners, Frank N Stuff Inc., saw the bear and wanted a hot dog on their diner’s roof,” he chuckles, adding, “Sculptures that large can’t really be marketed. It’s more ‘word of mouth’ advertising.”
“Word of mouth” definitely describes the giant hot dog, which has become as popular as the hot dogs it advertises. In fact, tourists have flocked in such droves to see the huge wiener situated at the foot of the Mackinaw Bridge that the Guinness Book of World Records is now considering it for a “World’s Largest” record.
But what did it take to create this spray foam work of art?
COOKING UP A SPRAY FOAM MASTERPIECE
An artist who has worked on large-scale sculpture with companies including Disney, Berman developed his own fabrication technique and opened his own studio in Clearwater, Florida.
“I’m inspired by the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty and the idea of using engineering and a steel structure to fabricate a shape,” Berman describes the basis for all his large sculpture designs. “It is art and engineering. When you build something that big [as a 63-foot hot dog] it becomes a structure – especially if it is going to be on a roof. You have to think about weight, wind-resistance, public safety, everything.”
Throughout his career, Berman has struck up friendships with architects and engineers and he consults with them about his ideas. Then, he actually sculpts the piece using 3-D computer programming, and the results become the actual blueprint for the job.
“The software I use is just like working with virtual clay. I essentially sculpt the pieces twice – once on the computer and again in reality. But this saves time, effort, and money in the long run. The program allows me to show the welds, the bends, the structural pieces, etc. This means that when I assemble the exoskeleton, I don’t need to employ a crew of 25 artists like Disney. I just need a welder and one or two apprentices to follow the blueprint.”
Since he has already sculpted the piece in the computer program, the two-man crew simply needs to follow the step-by-step printout to assemble the piece. Berman is on site, directing the construction of his art, but says, “There’s no guesswork. It becomes like building a house.”
For the hot dog, Berman used numbered and colored quarter-inch pencil rods to create the exoskeleton. “There are over 700 pieces of rod, some nine-feet long, some bent, some straight, in this piece.” He continues, “In this instance, a 13-year-old apprentice bent all of the pieces.” A local welder assembled the armature.
“We initially started the project inside, in mid-January,” says Berman. “It was freezing cold. The welder could only work sporadically, which was fine, because once he was more regularly available, it was warm and the sub-frame went up fast. Once we got the 50-foot buns assembled, they took up the entire shop and we had to move the piece outside to finish the meat.”
Then it was time to spray.
“I’m a urethane man,” Berman states. “I spent years working for Disney where everything is expanded polystyrene (EPS), but when I got out on my own, I met Tim Kearns, who is the grandfather of spray foam. He taught me all about foam, all about the machines, the chemical processes, and how to actually spray the stuff. He showed me that you must consider each and every pass and consistently follow a pattern. Spraying sculptures is not like spraying a flat surface and spray foam gives me the ability to do things that other mediums do not. Because of Tim, I fell in love with foam.”
And the foam opened up a new media.
“I’m thinking of doing a sculpture about friendship and Tim will be the face,” Berman says in tribute to the man he credits with changing his art and his life.
It was Kearns who also introduced Berman to the spray foam crew who would apply the foam to the giant hot dog.
“I needed a local spray foam application crew for this project and Tim knew Henry Behling, the Foam Operations Manager from Great Lakes Roofing and Insulation.” Berman reached out to the Sault Saint Marie, Michigan-based company.
“Ron contacted us and said he needed local experts to apply spray foam and we are experts at applying spray foam in this Michigan climate, so it worked out great,” says Behling. “Plus, a giant weenie? We knew that would be a tourist attraction from the start. Of course we wanted to be a part of that.”
The job was scheduled for late summer in northern Michigan – which can see a mix of sun and rain. And, given the wiener’s size, spraying was an outside affair.
“The diner’s owners also own a vacant lot that is away from people and cars so we didn’t have to worry about overspray,” Behling says, “But we did cover our fork truck so that it didn’t get tagged.”
They also covered themselves in Tyvek coveralls, spray hoods, gloves, goggles, and wore Bullard respirators when spraying the foam.
To spray that foam, the two-man Great Lakes Roofing and Insulation crew used a GlasCraft MH II with 200 feet of heated hose and a Probler P2 whip gun. They also used a Graco E30 with 200 feet of heated hose and a Fusion AP gun.
So, what foam is the “secret ingredient” in this world famous hot dog?
Behling says, “We used NCFI’s InsulStar closed-cell foam because it is the best on the market. It’s clean, trouble-free, and always provides the same yield.”
InsulStar is an excellent moisture- and vapor-barrier. But would it make an excellent art media too? Did the artist agree with the choice?
Berman says, “Their knowledge and spraying skill level were really impressive. And that brand of SPF they used was amazingly consistent. It worked great in the fluctuating climate in which we worked.”
He continues, explaining that the foam is an average of three-inches thick on the exoskeleton. The crew sprayed the entire hot dog in two days. Then, once it had cured, Berman used an electric sander equipped with 20-grit paper to shave the foam. Once he was satisfied with the shape of the hot dog, the buns, and the toppings, the Great Lakes crew returned for touch-up work.
“After we touched up the foam where it was needed, we sealed it all with fiberglass,” Berman says. “I usually use polyurea, but the customer wanted fiberglass, so we used it. Then we painted it using a resin-based primer and latex.”
“We ended up using about five sets of InsulStar to do the hot dog, a bit for touch up work,” Behling says. “And some for the mustard and the jalapenos.”
STUNNING SPRAY FOAM SAUSAGE
Five sets of foam to create a hot dog that is 63 feet long, 15 feet 2 inches high, and 12 feet wide. It weighs approximately 2.4 tons.
Through his process, Berman was able to calculate all of this upfront – again confirming his process is a marriage of engineering and art. His interest in engineering clearly comes through as he states with no small amount of pride, “Our design and finished sculpture actually exceed the wind loads of the permitting.”
Not only is it possibly the largest foam wiener in the world, it is arguably the most thoughtful and the safest. “They see a giant hot dog at the end,” Berman continues, “but they don’t really know the technical aspect that went into it, which is something that I’m proud of.”
Of course, there is the fact that it is a giant foam hot dog, and that’s something to be proud of too.
“Sure,” Berman chuckles. “I mean, it’s a hot dog. It’s not David or The Thinker. It’s a giant weenie. But, it’s a gorgeous giant weenie.” •
Photos courtesy of NCFI Polyurethanes and Ron Berman