(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)Buy this photo
CAMAS — Three things to know about Rich Ullsmith:
He has ascended much higher spires than Pam McNamara's flagpole.
He doesn't do this sort of thing for a hobby, let alone as a business, so don't ask him to go 50 feet up a tree to fetch your stranded cat.
Finally, as Ullsmith tells it: "All my stories start with, 'I was at a garage sale.'"
So … Ullsmith was at a garage sale at McNamara's house and that's when he asked her about the naked flagpole in her backyard. It had been bugging him for a couple of years.
"Every time I drive by, there's no flag," Ullsmith told her.
McNamara explained that the assembly at the top of the pole hadn't worked for half a century. McNamara had been briefed on the house's history when she bought it, and was told that the flagpole hadn't been used since the 1950s. But in the four years she's owned the 1925 Craftsman, McNamara couldn't find anybody who could fix the flagpole.
Ullsmith told himself, "I can do this."
Ullsmith is a retired ironworker who said he's helped build some of America's tallest structures, including Chicago's John Hancock Center. And he didn't just work on the 100-story building, Ullsmith said; he worked on a communication antenna on top the skyscraper.
On this project, he was working with a flagpole welded together from several lengths of steel pipe, in descending diameters.
"Probably made by a mill guy," Ullsmith said.
On his first trip to the top of the pole, Ullsmith cut off the last three feet or so of pipe, including the finial — the copper ball at the very top. He replaced the pulley system and updated the assembly with a ball-bearing fitting so the flag can rotate as the wind shifts.
Then Ullsmith went back up the ladder with the new piece, liberally slathered with epoxy. As Jon Ausherman anchored a rope lashed to the top of the ladder, so the pole wouldn't bear all his weight, Ullsmith slipped the retrofit into the pipe sleeve at the top.
Then he came back down and helped McNamara clip an American flag onto the lanyard. McNamara hoisted her new flag as Ullsmith climbed the ladder again just case something bunched up or snagged. And it did, when a corner of the flag seemed to be caught on the pole.
"Some of the epoxy grabbed it," Ullsmith said after freeing the flag.
Soon, with a cooperative breeze, the flag was rippling against a bright blue sky. It's something she really wanted to see, McNamara said. Her father spent 40 years in the U.S. Navy, and two uncles died during World War II, and the flag is a tribute to them.
Ullsmith didn't just provide all the fittings, McNamara noted. He gave her the flag.