In many ways it is a typical Queens backyard. There is a nice Cherry tree in the back corner and a chain link fence by the street that keeps the rambling expanse of green secluded and private. For 50 weeks of the year you wouldn’t pay much notice to it at all. It is in those 2 special weeks in late August however that for the past few years it has become a place of playful wonder and amazement.
Car drivers zipping past are probably unaware of what takes place just yards from the street. The gaze of pedestrians making their meandering way up the sidewalk however must certainly be drawn in befuddlement at the unique creations that begin to appear there just over the fence during the steamy heart of every late summer.
It all seems to all happen in a brief yet explosive burst of activity. One moment there will be piles of lumber, great mounds of bagged sugar, or enough popcorn to feed several circus crowds many times over. The whys and wherefores of this puzzle are easily understood when you learn that the man behind the unusual goings on is Ashrita Furman. He is a human tsunami wave of energy and enthusiasm. It is he who is the creator and breaker of the most Guinness book records ever and is the instigator of the unusual constructions that appear across the wide expanse of rugged green lawn.
It has happened for many years now that Ashrita and a crew of fellow disciples have engineered and manufactured world record marvels in order to honor their spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. Since his passing in 2007 the tradition has continued. Last year a giant edible lollipop was constructed. This year Ashrita decided upon building the worlds largest see saw. Don’t ask me why, and came up with the dimensions of 79 feet long to match what would have been Sri Chinmoy’s age on his birthday August 27th.
Yuyudhan is this years job foreman and when I come upon him first he was in the early stages of trying to put together this typical playground apparatus, but of the almost impossible dimensions. His good humored reply as to how he got involved, “trickery. We have got 2/3rds of a teeter totter going here, or what some in England would call a see saw.”
It is still fairly early in the building stage and it appears that there are few, if any glitches that are likely to slow the inevitable progress of its construction in time for its final installation on the 27th. For now Yuyudhan and his crew are trying to just get the object assembled and see if it is going to work.
At this point in its construction he says, “we are just trying to get things going. We are now assembling 2 of the 3 main pieces of the see saw.” He then admits that some wrong bolts where purchased which will have to be replaced. Only a small inconvenience.
He has been working for almost a week at this point and it becomes clear that there has been a real collaboration on its design. In some mysterious way, a crew seems to come together almost spontaneously, of the right capacity and number, at just the right time each year as well. He says that Bishwas was principally responsible for designing the stand and that he did much of the structural fine tuning of the see saw portion.
When asked where the ‘trickery’ came in with his involvement he says, “I was supposed to build it, and not get into the design and all that.” Clearly though he is relishing his involvement in constructing the world’s biggest see saw. As simple as it appears it takes real skill to super size such a simple device. He came up with some important ideas that would allow the see saw to achieve its great length with a minimal amount of weight.
He goes into some technical discussion on how and why he chose certain materials. At this point it looks close to being operational but he says that is still a day away. It will take at least 12 guys to pick up the see saw and put it in place on the stand. This will happen in the next 24 hours he says.
The almost constant rain has been a major factor in slowing down the early production. At this point he has August from Iceland and Keith from New Zealand as his crew. He says, “It is not that hard for one or two people to put most of it together. The problem is that once you get the sections together one or two people cannot lift this thing.”
He describes how the pivot in the middle will be 10 feet high and that the rider on the end of it will rise up 20 feet. With all the trees in the yard I wonder how it is even possible to adequately test the see saw. “It will fit,” he states categorically. He also has been designated as one who will have the dubious distinction of being the first test pilot, I mean rider. He is convinced all will go well. “It is going to be a great teeter totter and a record breaker.”
On the next day, which was the 26th, I come back again and speak with August and Keith, who are busy working with a nail gun as we talk. The pop of the fired nails punctuates our conversation. “We are putting a skin on it right now,” says August. “A piece of plywood to make it look nice.” The compressor goes on as we talk and adds to the incredible cacophony of sound. Keith jokes, “I am a noisy worker. We are not running out of time but we are just pushing on with the job. We have got to get it done.” At this point it is starting to look like a real see saw. “We are almost there.”
Earlier in the day they had actually tried the whole thing out. Everything has gone extremely well. “When we lifted it up it was perfectly balanced. Just like a see saw should be.” All reports point out as well that the first riders enjoyed the ride as well. August tells me that on the 27th they are going to need 30 boys in order to transport the see saw down to its final destination where it will officially be measured and tested. At the moment the see saw is resting on the 6 foot level. It can and might be raised much higher. Keith says, “it works, it is a great construction. It is really well balanced, gives it a lovely ride.”
August and Keith Interview
Arpan is also one who has helped since the early stages. It is now operational and he describes it, “It looks awesome. It is Yuyudhan’s creative genius, absolutely. That it works. That it works well. And that it is so big. It is unbelievable.” At this point he is eager to take a test drive. He knows a lot of work went into the project and describes the rain as being one of the obstacles that made going much tougher. Of Yuyudhan he says, “he took a good attitude and was calm about the whole thing.”
On the final morning of the 27th the site is busy with final touches. Papaha tells me proudly, “I am the art director for the world’s largest teeter totter. We were thinking of some pretty elaborate designs.” He says that in the end they decided to create something that would look as though it would fit into a typical playground. “That made my job a lot easier.”
He describes that he chose primary colors. In selecting them he checked out what was the norm in see saws around the world. “We wanted the bright happiness affect. You don’t want to take away from the simple joy of what you have created.” He has described his own ride on the see saw as, “all smiles.”
“In the beginning you are starring at someone 79 feet away from you. And both of you have this unbelievable smile on your face. Then you look down when you get up and it is, holy smokes we are really going up in the air.” In this mode the rider goes up 12 feet, when it is placed in its maximum setting the rider can go up 21 feet.
Transporting the pieces from the yard to the driveway is a big job. At this time of year there is no lack of volunteers and everyone enjoys being part of something as much fun and as historic as this project is.
Once all the pieces are in the driveway there is still lots of work left to do.
Bishwas directs much of the final bits of the assembly. Many people like Daulot have played their part as well.
Once the stand is safely assembled than a large group of boys has to lift the heavy see saw up and onto it.
Ashrita has been overseeing the operation from the beginning. Now he has the all important task of taking the final measurements to ensure the see saw will be recognized by the Guinness book of records. And yes folks get to actually ride the see saw. First up is the man who responsible for putting it all together.
To all those who have helped and to all those who simply want to enjoy the joyous spectacle of the world’s biggest see saw, on what would have been Sri Chinmoy’s 79th birthday, Ashrita made this announcement.
“For the purposes of the record, a see saw is defined as a long narrow board or beam that is suspended in the middle, so that as one end goes up the other end goes down. The see saw must be fully functional, and people must be able to use the item normally. The components of the see saw must be properly fixed together. It is not enough to lay a beam across an edge and lay a beam across it. So this, conforms to all those rules, and is made of all the components of a regular see saw. It is made out of wood and has some steel components.”
“It measures 79 feet long, because it is Sri Chinmoy’s 79th birthday. Sri Chinmoy gives us joy throughout the year so we chose something that would give him the most joy.” At this point he offers rides to the assembled crowd, but says that the first up should be Yuyudhan, as he had contributed the most in making this world record see saw.
Hundreds who will ride it over the next 24 hours will get to enjoy this, instantaneous joy, and certain to give you a smile, gigantic toy. For both young and old, big and small, it will spontaneously rekindle the sweet simple happiness of being a child. It magically happens the moment you climb on board and start to rise effortlessly up high into the air. Or in the case of a little girl like Shakti, who gets to ride with her mom, create an unforgettable sweet memory. One that will give her pause to smile for the rest of her life. One in which she was part of a world record and also just had fun.