Ala. flagpole painter plies trade from top to bottom

Published 6:00 am Friday, February 20, 2009

As a cool breeze blows by, Russell Tucker dangles by a smallyellow rope as he adds a little silver coating to theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce flagpole Thursdayafternoon.

A flagpole painter by trade, Tucker – one of three in the nationhe said – decided to pick up a few jobs while in town beforeheading toward the Starkville and Columbus area. He said he hasbeen in Brookhaven about a week.

Originally from Birmingham, Ala., Tucker attempts to fulfill hisunique version of patriotic duty by offering his trade tocommunities and towns across the country as part of a career thatbegan more than 34 years ago.

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Tucker said he volunteered to serve in the military when he was16, but his parents refused to sign him up. So now, paintingflagpoles is how he pays tribute to his country while travelingfrom coast to coast.

“It may as well be,” he said about his trade being a patriotichomage to his country.

Tucker said he saw an opportunity in stringing himself up highon poles, slapping a coat of paint here and there all across thenation.

“Nobody else does it … always got a job wherever I go,” Tuckersaid.

I figure “people respect the flag enough to spend money on iteven when they don’t have it,” he said.

Cliff Brumfield, the chamber’s executive vice president, saidTucker approached him offering his services for a nominal fee.

“(He) got his ropes and shimmied right up there,” Brumfieldsaid.

As far as taking pride in the condition of the American flag andthe pole from which it flies, Brumfield believed it was the rightthing to do by taking pride in cosmetically updating the pole.

“We’re glad to have been afforded the opportunity to put it backin top shape,” he said.

Brumfield estimated the flagpole probably has not seen a newcoat of paint in 20 years.

“We’re glad to have him do it,” Brumfield said. “You don’t see aguy hanging from a flag pole every day in Lincoln County.”

During his time in Brookhaven, Tucker has updated the pole atthe Lincoln County Public Library and also strung up a new rope atthe facility. He said he offered his services to the Brookhavenpublic schools, but those opportunities fell through.

While talking to Brumfield just before finishing the paint job,Tucker said he thought Brookhaven was a neat little town,especially by the train station.

Tucker said he plans to eventually venture toward Colorado as itwarms up. But his destination in between now and then is reallyunknown and unplanned.

” I got old customers and they are all around,” said Tucker,indicating the possibility of future job opportunities.

Tucker said he has a contract with U.S. Post Offices in Alabama,adding that there are more than 90 post offices alone in theBirmingham area. He said he also takes his traveling trade to theschools in northwestern Florida in cities like Fort Walton, PanamaCity and Pensacola.

Tucker said his job is not lucrative by any means.

“It is hard work,” he said.

And dangerous on top of that.

He’s had to fight wasp and has fallen before after a rope broke.That certain fall cost him a shattered arm that was restructuredwith a steel rod.

“I risk my life, but it makes me feel good,” Tucker said. “It’san accomplishment.”