GILLETTE, Wyo. — Russ Opp has found a way to while away the hours during subzero temperatures in Gillette.
And he's been spreading the results around the community.
The 64-year-old retired plumber and businessman spent those bone-chilling cold days that started the new year manufacturing frozen "gumdrops" with a friend.
The colored balls are made by filling balloons with a gallon of water each and 20 drops of food coloring.
The colored balloons were placed outside to freeze, carried in a roaster pan so there isn't a water-filled tragedy along the way. They were frozen for two days and then the balloons are peeled off each ball to reveal the true colors created.
"Some of them, when you peel them off, it's just amazing," Opp said. "It made the time spent out in the cold feel a little shorter."
He placed them at the Campbell County Senior Center and the Fishing Lake at Dalbey Memorial Park.
It was a massive temporary art project — one that's beginning to melt now — that Opp, 64, and his friend Jennifer gave to the community as they created 125 different colored and textured frozen balls and distributed them around town.
The name for the gumdrops was a natural. You can see them cascading out of an overflowing candy box if you visualize it.
Each frozen drop weighs about 8 pounds.
"I've tried it over the years," Opp said, adding the "weather has to be just right."
The conditions need to include subzero temperatures and not much snow.
"If you get a lot of snow, it's not good," he said.
A growing globe of color
That subzero cold snap that enveloped Gillette on New Year's weekend provided perfect conditions, and the purples, blues, yellows, oranges, red, gold and greens began to grow outside his home north of Gillette to go with it.
His favorite frozen sculpture is a mix of food coloring that created a forest green color. As the sun shifts, you can see the effect of cat's eyes in them — something you also see in marbles. There are bubbles inside the orbs, along with cracks and shapes, all part of the natural freezing process.
He watched the reactions after he placed them around town.
Four deer who stopped to eat outside his home one morning paused at the gumdrops, leaned down and each sniffed the globes closely. None of them stuck their tongues on the frozen balls for a taste test, but they were plenty curious.
A mom and two daughters re-arranged the gumdrops at the Fishing Lake from the straight rows Opp and his friend had first created when they put them out. The trio arranged them in a colorful circle.
Then, from a distance away, Opp could make out five boys towing sleds across the Fishing Lake who also stopped to look at the circle of colorful gumdrops.
They each paused in curiosity. One lowered his glove to a ball, rubbed it and then raised the glove to his nose to sniff it, just as the deer did.
One seemed to want to take a gumdrop home, lifting it off the ice, but may have been talked out of it by his friends. Later, Opp said, he found one of the gumdrops missing. Then the remaining ones were smashed Wednesday night before they could melt.
At the Senior Center, Opp and Jennifer put out the gumdrops on New Year's Day, since the building was closed. He didn't let anyone know of the gift, but the surveillance cameras at the parking lot may have given them away, he said. Anyway, the jig was up. Regulars knew who was behind the droppings.
"It brought a smile to everyone's face," Opp added.
"Russ really is a great guy and is always looking for something fun to do and brings joy every day to our center," said Activities Coordinator Margie Ketterling. "They (gumdrops) are unique!"
Testing the process
His personal project also created something of an enduring mystery and curiosity.
He attached wire to three of the giant balls and hung them from an old swing set in his yard. He's wondering about creating a plate with rebar to hang them.
He put an LED light in the middle of a blue gumdrop, fascinated by its light from inside.
He tried to see the different shapes it would create by having them freeze in different fabrics and shapes, including a plastic dog dish and the frame of an outdoor hammock.
"I bought 200 balloons and that was my goal," Opp said. "Now I'll have to make another 125 plus the 75 more. ... You always have to up the ante."
More to come
Opp, like many living in Gillette, expects more cold snaps to occur through the winter, and he has colorful plans of what to create when that happens again.
The next time, though, he and Jennifer likely will make sure to include the blend of food coloring they used to create each of the fascinating colors.
"What I like the best is to see how the sun changes them," Opp said.
He also likes how people react to his "sculptures," saying he's tried encouraging some to bring them inside to decorate desks and watch the natural thawing process at work.
Here's to you, Gillette. There's a bit of art, joy and goofiness in every gumdrop he creates.