Watching paint dry leads to Guinness world record in rural Indiana

By Susan Guyett

By Susan Guyett

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Mike Carmichael simply wanted to do something weird when he and his 3-year-old son slapped a coat of blue paint on a baseball in 1977.

The central Indiana resident stuck with painting the ball, which grew large enough to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004.

At that time, it was 9 feet (2.7 meters) across, and the record was an estimated 18,000 layers of paint. Now Carmichael, 68, figures he is at close to 25,000, although he never set out to break records.

The ball now measures 14 feet after Carmichael, his family, friends and even visitors added more coats of paint over the last several decades. At its last weigh-in two years ago, the sphere of ever-changing colors was about 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg).

"I was always doing something weird, so I wanted something different to do,” said the soft-spoken, self-employed painter. “We had no idea it was going to get this big, this popular or this heavy.”

Carmichael keeps the ball in a custom-built structure on his property in Alexandria, a town of about 5,000 people about 40 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The roadside spectacle attracts about 1,200 visitors a year. Some just want to gawk, while others, who call ahead and schedule an appointment, grab a paint brush and get to work so they can claim a hand in the ongoing record.

The ball is not a money maker, although Carmichael sells T-shirts and jewelry. Everyone who paints gets a certificate, while every donor receives a paint chip from the project.

The ball, which now looks more like a giant gourd, hangs from the ceiling with heavy chains and an industrial hook. A mirror beneath it ensures the painter does not miss a spot.

A photo hanging in the ball house shows Carmichael's son, Mike Jr., during the first paint job almost four decades ago. Now 42, he lives nearby and still pitches in with color makeovers.

Carmichael Sr. and others paint every day, although his wife, Glenda, resigned when the ball got larger. “It’s a job now,” she said with a smile.

At one point, Carmichael considered cutting the ball in half to see all the layers of color, but given its size, he dropped that idea.

Red is a popular color with visiting painters, and the job can be done in eight minutes or less, depending on how many participate. Comedian Tom Green and country musicians the Oak Ridge Boys are among the people who have lent a hand.

As for how long Carmichael plans to keep going, he is not sure. The current set-up can hold 11,500 pounds, he said, so he has some time before the ball will drop.


(Reporting by Susan Guyett; Editing by Ben Klayman and Lisa Von Ahn)