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Bill Habedank stencils an image on one of his pumpkins in preparation for his annual fall display, which will be at the Red Wing Depot this year. (Republican Eagle photo by John Russett)

Carving a local niche

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People from all over the world have come to see what Bill Habedank creates each fall.

After arriving late one night from China, visitors from Red Wing’s sister city Quzhou stopped first at the display of carved pumpkins at his house, Habedank recalled.

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This year, for the first time in the 38 years Habedank has been doing the show, the display will be at the Red Wing Depot.

Habedank said he called Dan Guida, executive director for the Red Wing Arts Association, to ask if there was somewhere downtown he could have his show. Guida was on board immediately, Habedank said, and told him he could have the show at the depot.

Habedank hopes to have 150 pumpkins carved for the show this year, and he will be carving 70 himself.

He has carved as many as 130 on his own in the past, but said he is hoping to spread the work throughout the community.

“I’m not getting any younger, so I decided to try and make this a community project,” Habedank said. “I want to make this pumpkin thing a tradition in Red Wing. After I’m gone maybe it will still continue. Other communities have their own tradition, so why not Red Wing as far as Halloween goes?”

Habedank harvests pumpkins from his garden out by Vasa Lutheran Church, he said. This year, in three trips, he hauled 220 pumpkins to his Grandview Avenue home.

The process for carving has been refined over the years and Habedank said it took him around 30 years to fine tune everything.

He used to use knives for everything, he said. Now the veterinarian uses an array of gadgets — from X-Acto knives to homemade stenciling tools, even a hoof knife, which is usually used to trim horses’ hooves.

“Having the right tools is what makes it go faster,” he said.

After the design is stenciled on the pumpkin, using a tool to punch little holes along the lines of the image, he used to use a pen to trace the outline on the surface, Habedank said.

Now he spreads food coloring paste over the pumpkin, which soaks into the holes and makes them easier to see. The excess is wiped off, saving a lot of time, he said.

The average time per pumpkin is around 40 minutes from start to finish.

Habedank said it used to take him around 45 minutes when he started, but added he was doing much simpler designs then.

“It takes patience and attention to detail, which is basically patience,” he said. “The most important part is the eyes. You get the eyes right and the rest you can just fake it.”

When each pumpkin is done, Habedank said he rubs the cut areas with Vaseline and wraps the pumpkins in plastic wrap to help keep them fresh. The finished pumpkins are stored at Hager Heights Drive In’s cooler until it’s time for the show.

Habedank said he usually has around 20 volunteers and they do anything from scooping out the pumpkins to putting patterns on as well as carving.

There are other jobs for volunteers besides working with the pumpkins, he said. This year he has to have people to man the show during the evening and answer questions for visitors and have security so pumpkins aren’t tampered with.

Peter Jacobs, who has been helping Habedank for about six years, said by the time this year’s show is ready to go Habedank is already thinking about the show for next year.

“It’s fun to create something that just comes to life. And I get a kick out of watching the people and the kids, especially the kids,” Habedank said. “I got a pumpkin for all ages.”

The show will be Oct. 26 through Nov. 2 and the pumpkins will be lit every night from dusk until dawn.

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