During the summer of 2003, the line for the shower at John and Julie Parker’s cabin south of Atlanta, Ga., would sometimes get a bit too long. Slathered in sun screen and bug goo after a day on the dock, up to 18 extended family members would mill around the cabin deck, waiting for their chance to get into the cabin’s one shower.
Parker and his niece, Karen Scar-brough, were in one of those long lines, using the time to talk about their mutual interest in scuba diving, and then about Parker’s woodcarving hobby and what he might carve next. He had just finished a life-sized wooden mermaid and mounted it on the A-frame cabin’s rafters, where it joined a few other life-sized carved fish.
“That’s when I thought of it,” Parker said. “Karen is a huge fan of sharks. I told her I was going to build her a shark shower. She thought it was a half-baked promise at first – and it kind of was.”
This project happened much the way things of this nature always do: a man, a garage, a few tools, a few bucks, and a singular idea that won’t go away. And so it was that John Parker spent the winter of 2003-2004 creating a 550-pound shark shower out of steel, wire and fiberglass – a functional outdoor shark shower with hot-and-cold running water.
The shark started as a drawing on a transparency, taken from a book on great white sharks. Late one night, he projected the image onto the garage door and pulled the projector back until the shark was big enough to contain a shower. Just to be sure, he got his wife Julie out of bed to stand in the shark’s shadow “just to size it up properly and to make sure it afforded proper modesty,” he explained. Measurements in hand, he began planning: To keep it life-sized, a 36-inch-diameter shower compartment would require a 15-foot-long shark.
Parker wasn’t going to pay a professional welder $60 an hour to construct a frame. So for $150, he picked up an arc welder at a pawnshop, taught himself to weld, and began manipulating 500 feet of steel and wire mesh into a shark skeleton.
“My neighbors knew about the mermaid,” Parker said, “so I suppose they weren’t too surprised to see blue light coming out the garage windows in the wee hours of the night.”
To flesh out the shark, Parker covered the 250-pound frame in hardware cloth, sprayed it with 30 pounds of a construction-grade polyurethane foam (using 10 rolls of duct tape and plenty of poly plastic to keep the foam in place while it set), and began the task of sanding it smooth with a specially modified car buffer.
Then came 400 feet of fiberglass cloth, 17 gallons of resin, and more sanding – this time by hand with rasps and coarse sandpaper. “The first five gallons [of resin] I bought all went on the tail, and I thought ‘Good golly! This is gonna be nuts!’ ”
To give the shark a hard exterior that could stand up to the weather, Parker called on a friend who owns a car body shop. They hauled the shark to the shop and sprayed it with a Kevlar-based product called Speed Liner, which is generally used to line pickup truck beds.
The shark made the trip to the cabin on Parker’s boat trailer, strapped down and carefully secured. In the preceding weeks, Parker and his son designed and built a hanging post, which is buried five feet deep and towers nearly 20 feet above ground to accommodate the enormous shark. A crew of men, fueled by coolers full of sandwiches and weekend-appropriate beverages, wrestled the shark off the trailer and onto the post, where it was bolted into place via a pin-and-hole system welded to the shark’s frame.
Once hung from the post, Parker ran hot and cold water, via buried lines, out to the shark, and designed a greywater system to catch and filter the run-off for his flower gardens. The showerhead and on-off valves are attached to a simple plastic kitchen cutting board, which is attached to the shark.
Voila! Shark shower! The family christened the shark “K-Bite,” referencing Karen, who inspired the project.
Parker, who admits that he’s been consumed by the project, then began wiring the fish for lights and sound.
“When you step into the shower, a red and green light comes on, and the theme song to ‘Jaws’ begins playing. For exactly two minutes and forty-six seconds. Then two Bob Marley songs play,” Parker explains. “That tends to get people to wash faster. It’s not on a timer, but I’ve choreographed it to get you in and out of the shower in about eight minutes. You ought to see the feet dancing!”
A changing room for the shark shower, which is perched on the edge of the shower deck, is filled with family pictures of scuba trips, and a sign warns users to shower at their own risk.
Parker made several shark dorsal fins, which he’ll place in the flower garden surrounding the shower area. That should look as if sharks are swimming about in a sea of flowers.
Parker figures he’s got about 300 hours and $2,500 invested in the shark. “I’m still messing around with it. It’s just silly. I know it. But it’s fun to have this theme to work with.”
The Parker family has met many of their fellow lakeshore owners since they’ve installed the shark. “People drive by in their boat, and then they come back by real slow to ask if it’s real. I tell them that we just caught it off the dock,” Parker laughs. In fact, he’s had complete strangers come over for showers, and they often bring their cameras and camcorders.
“I wouldn’t mind doing this for a living,” Parker said. He has an idea for a flowerpot shower, and something about a beer can and an outhouse. “Functional art, if you will.”
Jana Voelke Studelska’s husband and three boys were hugely impressed with the shark shower. Only the distance of 1,200 miles between their house and the Parker cabin kept the boys from showing up at the Parkers’ with towels and shampoo.