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Love makes the Whirligig Go Round

As the propeller turns, an attached rod causes the fireman to move and alternately direct his hose on the doghouse and the dog's tail. This is one of 150 patterns in the Crossin's collection.

Jimmy Crossin holds a coal car whirligig used as a logo for his business, "Granddad's Whirligigs

Edith Crossin paints details on a coal miner whirligig using high gloss latex exterior enamel. The coal miner whirligig was designed for the Panther Valley Coal Mine Museum at the #9 Mine.




Here's a story from the e-magazine's first year, 2004.

Retired couple makes and sells whirligigs. For them, love makes the whirligig go round. — Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

What's a whirligig? Any spinning toy is a whirligig—but the Crossins make a particular type of whirligig.

Their whirligigs are designed as novelty lawn ornaments or weather vanes. The basic model has a rudder to align the body with the wind and a propeller that turns a drive shaft. From that point on, the design is only limited by their skill, creativity and most of all, their sense of humor.

The turning of the drive shaft may link to: make a miner swing his pick into a coal seam, two trainmen on a side car to pump as fast as possible to get away from an oncoming locomotive, or a fireman aim a fire hose toward a burning doghouse.

Jimmy Crossin believes the seeds of the modern whirligig date back to the early 1900s. "The Amish used it to chase away moles in their gardens," he said. "It was just a straight stick with a propeller. When it spun in the wind, it caused the ground to vibrate, scaring the moles—as well as scaring the birds above the ground."

"Then someone thought of attaching a linkage and using the turning drive shaft to move a figure," Jimmy continued. "The earliest figures were of a farmer chopping wood."

Jimmy, a Mauch Chunk native, married the former Edith Warner of Parryville on March 1, 1958. After being married for 46 years, he still remembers their first meeting. "We met on December 11, 1957 at 8:30 p.m. at the American Legion Hall in Lehighton."

While their children were growing up, the Crossins spent their summers camping at state parks—sleeping in 29 of Pennsylvania's 38 state parks. In 1973, during one of these trips, Jimmy and Edith bought their first whirligig—a woodchopper.

"I took it apart and spent six months trying to figure out how to make the propeller hub," Jimmy noted. His first one hundred propeller hubs were disasters. Eventually, he discovered the techniques of making compound angle cuts in the hubs and balancing the propeller blades.


With perseverance and support from Edith, Jimmy mastered the design and set about making whirligigs as a hobby. Jimmy cut the parts and painted them with a first coat of paint and Edith supplied a steady hand for the fine details on the figures. They worked together for the final assembly with Jimmy putting the whirligigs together and Edith telling him what a good job he was doing.

At the time, Jimmy worked at the New Jersey Zinc Company in Palmerton and the whirligigs were strictly a hobby. When a friend suggested that he sell his whirligigs at a craft show at the Jim Thorpe Railroad Station, Jimmy thought, "I didn't see anything worth selling—but I decided to give it a try."

A reporter wrote a story about the Crossin's whirligigs at the craft show. "I was so proud," said Jimmy. They decided to be regularly exhibitors at the craft shows at Muhlenberg Medical Center, May Days, and at Agricultural Hall in Allentown.

After taking early retirement at age 55 in 1991, Jimmy turned his extra time into his hobby-turned-business. "It's only a hobby," admits Jimmy. "I don't do it because I have to—I do it because I want to."

He reinvested all his profits into the business—his major expense being a workroom that he added to his home. When it's Christmas, Edith and the family ask him what new power tool he needs for his workshop.

Each year, the Crossins add several new designs to their 150-pattern library. This year, the feature whirligig has a locomotive approaching a rock on the railroad tracks while a trainman holding a lantern waves a red flag. "When the wind blows, he's flagging the train down," Jimmy explained.

The Crossins call their business "Granddad's Whirligigs." Their logo shows one of their early designs dating back to 1975, of a railroad engine pulling a coal gondola. The locomotive tips back and forth in a seesaw motion with a railroad crossing sign used as a rudder.

They designed a whirligig with a coal miner swinging a pick for the Panther Valley Coal Mine Museum at the #9 Mine. Last year, the museum ordered fifty.

~ Al Zagofsky
to Te





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