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An inspiration in wood
Dolphin carving from oak tree dedicated to hurricane victims
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Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Keith Carroll carved Patty the Dolphin from an oak tree destroyed by Hurricane Irma in the parking lot of Plumlee Realty in Indian Rocks Beach.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Very little good can be said about anything in the wake of a hurricane, especially one as powerful as Irma. Yet an IRB man turned a loss into a gain, one that he hopes will be around for a long time.

Todd Plumlee lost a 100-year-old oak tree, which was one of several in the parking lot of his business, Plumlee Gulf Beach Realty on First Street. It was a big personal loss because Plumlee’s mother dearly loved the oak trees and losing one of them was devastating. Yet there had to be a way to lessen the damage.

“A few years ago that very tree was hit by lightning,” said Plumlee. “It seemed to recover and was looking well until the hurricane came through. It blew the tree down and we discovered that the lightning had compromised the stability of the tree; there was a hole right through the inside.”

Plumlee said the first piece of good news about losing the tree was that it did not hit anyone or anything, not a car nor building. The tree, with a 3-foot diameter trunk, fell harmlessly.

It was then Plumlee decided to make something positive out of it.

“I read an article about this man in Florida who carves things out of tree trunks,” he said. “I contacted him and instead of spending a thousand dollars in grinding up and removing the 16-foot trunk, we decided to go with a carving for not much more money.”

Plumlee contacted Keith Carroll of Melbourne. Carroll has been carving figures out of tree trunks for 25 years. He uses chain saws to do the carving and got his start by helping a friend years ago.

“I was helping him part time and I learned by watching him do it,” he said. “When he moved to Missouri I bought his equipment and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

When Carroll saw the 16-foot stump in Plumlee’s parking lot he knew from experience what he would carve out of that trunk.

“The person has to decide what they want me to carve,” he said. “I check on the diameter, height and angle of the wood. This one had a slight tilt; it was perfect for a dolphin.”

A dolphin, it is. Carroll first had to lop off seven feet of the trunk because it was too badly damaged to use. After that he got to work and in two days had the job done.

Using a chainsaw on wood is not a forgiving act. One slip and a mistake has been made.

“You can work around your mistakes,” he said. “It is not like clay where you can add on so you have to cut around them.”

Carroll said he enjoys chainsaw carving even though it is sometimes tough going.

“It is hard work; there are lots of sawdust that you breathe in,” he said. “It is hot but worth it. Everybody stops by and give me the thumbs up. That’s encouraging. People have never seen it done before; they get a kick out of it.”

No one got a bigger kick out of it than Todd Plumlee when the dolphin carving was finished. Because it has replaced the old oak tree is mother loved so much, the dolphin now has a name.

“We’re calling it Patty the dolphin, after my mom,” he said. “She is retiring later this month so the timing is perfect. We’re dedicating the carving to all the victims of hurricanes this year.”

Plumlee hopes the carving will be around for a long time. To ensure that it is, he has to coat it with an acrylic based sealant every six months. As well during the carving process, filler had to be poured into the hole left by the lightning.

A plaque has been ordered that will explain the dedication of the carving. Plumlee said thousands of people come through his parking lot every year so they can enjoy the carving as well.

As time goes by the memory of Hurricane Irma will fade, but not in Todd Plumlee’s parking lot.

“We managed to make lemonade out of lemons in this case,” he said.
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