Pam Adams, Labadie, walked out of the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce office earlier this summer with a Bucket of Junk in her hands and uncertainty on her mind.

She had signed up for the home ec category at Washington Town and Country Fair for her kids, 10-year-old Clay and 15-year-old Kaelyn, but looking at the contents of the bucket, she wondered if she had made a mistake.

“I thought, ‘Really, I’m supposed to be able to make something with this?’ There was a lot of metal, and I’m a single mom. I don’t know how to weld or anything like that.”

Then a friend suggested Adams go to the Bucket of Junk sponsor, Ace Hardware, for help. That was the turning point.

“The man there was awesome,” said Adams. “He told me to clean the pieces first, so they would bond together, and he sold me some stuff, two tubes that I had to mix together, that would make it all stick together.”

Armed with the right bonding agent, the Adams family got busy. They fashioned a sculpture featuring a reptile in a garden of flowers along with a butterfly, a person and a sign that says “WTACF” for Washington Town and Country Fair.

“We got really enthused and excited about it,” said Adams, noting this is her first time entering any of the home ec categories.

The family couldn’t be prouder of their finished product. It stands about waist high and, until Monday evening, when Adams delivered it to the home ec committee at the fairgrounds, it was standing on their front porch, “kinda like a garden ornament,” said Adams.

The family’s entry is one of 10 in the adult division of the Bucket of Junk, which was added as a new home ec category last year. This year, organizers added a junior division (for ages 17 and under), also with 10 entries.

Clearly that was a popular idea, said Fair Coordinator Jennifer Giesike, noting that all 20 buckets in both divisions were spoken for just a day and a half after the contest was opened.

The junior division buckets were the first to go, but some of the kids who had missed out were able to get an adult in their lives to sign up in the adult division and then work as a team.

The way the contest works is simple, said Giesike. Contestants, when they sign up, are given a 5-gallon Bucket of Junk. The adult and junior divisions have differing contents, but all of the buckets in each division are the same, so it’s a level playing field.

Organizers were careful to keep the contents of the junior buckets kid friendly, Giesike noted, no sharp edges and lighter-weight things that could be attached with regular glue or hot glue — twine, old hoses, fence plastic, toilet paper roll . . .

The adult division buckets had a couple of metal discs and metal bars, a coat hanger, pieces of plastic . . .

The rules say that contestants have to use all of the junk that was in their bucket and they can’t add any extra parts (aside from paint and whatever kind of bonding material they choose).

They also aren’t supposed to cut or modify any of the pieces of junk. All of it adds to the challenge.

All of the “junk” was provided by local businesses, said Giesike. Ideally, there would be enough donated junk that organizers could make up more than just 10 buckets, but they are limited in their access to enough good parts, so the contest is limited to 10 buckets each.

The idea for Bucket of Junk came from a friend of Giesike’s who manages the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, N.Y. When they added their Bucket of Junk contest five years ago or so, it took off, said Giesike.

She was happy to see the same reaction here.

Challenges End With Creative Result

Candace Fleming, New Haven, faced the same challenge as Adams initially. She dumped out the contents of her bucket and had no idea how she could attach any of the pieces together, let alone make anything out of them.

“There were heavy items in there,” she said.

“I wasn’t going to go out and buy welding equipment . . . then a niece suggested Gorilla Glue.”

That did it.

“I started working on it like crazy,” said Fleming, who has been entering various home ec categories at the Washington Fair for the last 18 years or so.

She didn’t have a name for her entry when The Missourian spoke to her last week, but Fleming described her finished piece as a “hodgepodge of color.”

“It looks like a kaleidoscope,” she said.

“I can’t wait to see what the others created.”

And that’s where the fun in the Bucket of Junk lies for everyone who couldn’t participate — seeing how people’s imagination and creativity take them in different directions given the exact same Buckets of Junk.

For Many, A Family Project

Nathan Roetheli, Union, created a summer Olympics scene, turning the two metal bars in his bucket into parallel bars, using other parts to create the Olympic rings, a trampoline and spell out “London 2012.”

His wife, Sammi, helped. He welded the parts together. She painted the items.

Wayne Brinkmann, Washington, worked with his grandson, David Ley, 10, to create a race car Fair theme with flowers, butterflies and more.

“My grandson had wanted to enter, but all of the junior buckets were gone, so we decided to do one together,” said Brinkmann. “He designed it, and I put it together.”

Working together is what has made the project so fun and fulfilling for the grandfather/grandson team. The family for years has entered livestock at the Fair and submitted items for other home ec categories, but the Bucket of Junk was different, said Brinkmann.

“It makes you think,” he said. “It’s a learning thing, to try to come up with something out of all that different type of ‘junk.’ ”

Other families made their Bucket of Junk a team project. Brothers Jake, 9, and Cole Straatmann, 5, Villa Ridge, entered the junior division because “it sounded like fun,” but in the end drew in their mom and dad, too.

“Cole and I did the brainstorming, and then the whole family did the building,” said Jake, noting his mom used a hot glue gun to attach pieces according to the boys’ plan.

Jake said it was his dad’s suggestion that the coffee can in the bucket could be the engine of a train that expanded the boys’ vision of making a train with their junk.

“Then we saw other parts that could make the tracks,” Jake said.

The Kopmann sisters of Marthasville — Jamie, 12; Sara, 11; and Katie, 9 — also entered the junior division as a team. Like the Straatmann boys, they dumped out the contents of the bucket and brainstormed for a while until an idea started to come together.

“We came up with a race car, puppies, a castle, a bunch of stuff,” said Jamie.

“We ended up making a robot, though because you have to use all of the pieces except the bucket and that was the only idea that did.”

For 10-year-old Connor Vollmer, Washington, the Bucket of Junk was a summer weekend project he could work on with his dad, Joe.

His mom, Shelley, said entering the contest was Cole’s idea. He saw it when they were at the Chamber office filling out paperwork for their hogs. As a parent, she said the contest was both fun and educational.

“It was definitely a challenge,” she said. “You have to be very resourceful.”

Other Ideas

Evan Searcy, 14, Washington, said he used trial and error a lot before settling on his design.

“My first idea was to make a face, but that seemed too obvious, so I made a rocket with a launching pad,” he said.

“I used the clothes hanger to make a star, twisted it into a star.”

He used Superglue and Elmer’s glue for most of the project.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Evan, who is known in his family for taking random stuff from around his house to create new things.

“Right now I’m trying to make a keyboard stand, rather than just go buy one,” he said.

Evan said he ended up liking the Bucket of Junk contest even more than he expected.

“It was fun because it makes you think of ways to use things that don’t fit together,” he said. “You have to invent ways for them to fit together.”

Philip Ray, New Haven, who won the Bucket of Junk contest last year with a robot he crafted to be holding a machine gun, kind of like a “Terminator” character, this year has made a record player for the adult division.

“When I saw the two big metal round discs, that’s what I seen when I started pulling things out,” said Ray.

One of the hardest requirements of the contest is having to use all of the items in the bucket, finding a way to incorporate them into your main idea.

“It’s all about using your imagination,” said Ray.

Judging in the Bucket of Junk contest, like all of the home ec categories, was held Tuesday.

The winners are on display in the home ec building on the Fairgrounds through Sunday.