SEQUIM — When a rocket lands in a front yard, it’s going to catch some attention.
At nearly 9 feet tall, Ron DeGroat’s wooden rocket replica has become an unofficial Sequim attraction along West Cedar Street in recent years, causing cars to slow down and people to seek snapshots.
“Every so often, I notice people taking a picture,” the 66-year-old woodworker said from his garage shop.
“You should have seen the reaction on the trick-or-treaters’ faces when one kid told me he liked my rocket,” DeGroat said.
He asked the youngster if he wanted to fly it, and the boy’s mouth dropped.
The rocket isn’t likely to fly. At its base rests an old car rim with about 60 pounds of cement holding down the replica of the Saturn V, prominent for its use by NASA from 1967-1973.
Despite a record amount of takeoffs from the real rocket, DeGroat’s model stays in his front yard year-round because “it’s hard to move.”
“After I painted it, it took three of us to move it from the garage to the front yard,” he said.
DeGroat has been interested in woodworking most of his life, including in his high school shop classes in Southern California. He began carving wood scraps while he lived in Utah before he moved to Sequim in 1987. That’s when woodworking was part hobby and essential.
Following a divorce, he came to the city with his two sons and such few belongings that he began building items such as shelves and entertainment centers. Over the years, that grew into turning fallen fences into decorative boxes, building his own wood shed and designing wooden lighthouses.
He started building the rocket replica six years ago after visiting his oldest son, Joshua, in Las Vegas.
“I was thinking about making a plane for the front yard, like the Spirit of St. Louis or a Piper Cub, but it was a whole lot easier to make a rocket from scratch than an airplane,” DeGroat said.
“You’ve got to shape it just right, so I started playing with the idea of a rocket.”
DeGroat said he’s always liked things that fly.
“Since I was a kid, I built a zillion plastic models and a few planes out of balsa wood,” he said.
The centerpiece art in his living room is a wooden frame he made holding a poster of the first flight of the Wright brothers.
“I always liked Saturn V,” he said. “That was one big (rocket).”
The wooden replica took him several months to build. He’s unsure just when during the process he decided to dedicate it to his late son Michael Ross DeGroat, who died at age 22.
On the rocket are Michael’s initials, birth date and day of death.
“It’s my personal tribune,” he said.
Now, Joshua lives in Southern California while DeGroat lives alone with his terrier/pug mix, Dee, in Sequim.
Now semi-retired from a sheet rock installation career, DeGroat has worked numerous jobs in his 30-plus years, from cooking to serving as a mechanic to housekeeping. The woodworking has been a stress reliever.
“I think a lot of it is getting lost in the project,” he said.
DeGroat recalled his late mother calling him to pick her up for an appointment, which he forgot because he was so focused on his woodworking.
“A freight train could have gone through the living room, and I wouldn’t have heard it,” he said.
Despite his talent, DeGroat remains modest, joking he “makes firewood” from his hobby.
But one of his specialties is making lighthouses like one that sits a few feet east of his rocket.
His first came after Michael died. In the past year, he made a jig to produce multiple lighthouses. All but two were claimed or sold. One lighthouse sold to a neighbor for a haircut and the cost of materials.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, DeGroat said he planned to place many of the lighthouses in his trunk bed and sell them during festivals, but that was put on hiatus. He has patterns available to build more. (Those interested in a lighthouse can call DeGroat at 360-683-9018.)
In the meantime, DeGroat’s workbench is dedicated to a special project that he says tackles three things in one — a spirit house, tree house and a post-and-beam house.
He thought about it in August while he was recovering from surgery.
“I have no idea how I’m going to paint it though with so many nooks,” DeGroat said.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at email@example.com.