Wasilla really knows its duct tape

Posted: Sunday, July 06, 2003

WASILLA (AP) It's a sticky solution to a messy problem. But for Sherri Mulhaney, it works.

The Wasilla resident's 2-year-old twins are at the delightful stage of pulling off their diapers and flinging them into the air. It was cute in the beginning. But Mulhaney smelled a problem on her hands. And on the walls, and elsewhere.

''I had enough with poop flying around,'' she said.

Mulhaney fought back with a silver weapon, one familiar to many Alaskans. No, not a hunting rifle. Remember the word ''sticky''?

In duct tape, that most universal of Alaska tools, Mulhaney found relief.

Every time she changes her twins these days, Mulhaney wraps duct tape around their diapers. The poop stays where it belongs, and the toddlers get to look like real Alaskans at a tender age.

Mulhaney swears by duct tape. And judging by a national contest Wasilla residents just won for buying more duct tape than any other community, Mulhaney has plenty of company.

''My girlfriend and I want to make custom duct tape with Mickey Mouses on it,'' said Mulhaney, rearming herself with a fresh roll earlier this week at the Wasilla Wal-Mart.

She thinks every store should stock duct tape in the baby section. Who knows? They just might, said Marlene Munsell, manager of the Wal-Mart.

Munsell knows something about duct tape. Last year her store sold about 8,600 rolls, more than any other Wal-Mart in the country. The closest competitor was the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Gallup, N.M., which sold some 7,300 rolls.

The biggest supplier of Duck brand duct tape, Henkel Consumer Adhesives Inc., keeps tabs. The company tracked sales of duct tape at every Wal-Mart store across the country last year. Of the roughly 2,900 stores nationwide, Wasilla sold the most, earning for the city the honorary Duct Tape Capital of the World title, said Valerie Stump, a Henkel spokeswoman. The company will sponsor festivities, including a duct tape fashion show, at the Wasilla store on July 19.

Sales at other Alaska Wal-Marts weren't too shabby either. Anchorage's store near the Dimond Center took third place in the national competition. And the Wal-Mart at Benson Boulevard and A Street came in 11th, Stump said.

For many Mat-Su residents, duct tape is a fact of life.

Retired truck driver Pat Smith said he keeps at least five or six rolls on hand at any given time.

''Go ahead and find a working Alaskan that doesn't have duct tape. Go ahead. I dare you,'' said Smith, as he had coffee and a cigarette at the Butte Cafe in Palmer.

He and his table mate, Mike Baird, a heating and refrigeration technician, rattled off uses for duct tape in Alaska.

''What do you do when your Helly Hansens spring a leak?'' Smith asked. ''Duct tape,'' Baird responded.

''What do you do when your bunny boots crack?'' Smith asked.

''Duct tape,'' he and Baird said in unison.

What about if your radiator hose bursts, your tent rips, your sleeping bag gets a hole, your Carhartts wear out? Duct tape, the men again agreed.

And those are just average repair jobs of daily life. What about when something dramatically Alaskan happens, like your floatplane sheds a pontoon or a bear eats your raft?

Duct tape spells survival, pure and simple, according to Barrow firefighter and pilot Dan Cox, shopping at the Wasilla Wal-Mart this week. Cox recalled a fishing trip down the Alagnak River a few years back. He and his partner tied up their Zodiac and went to sleep. After crawling out of their tent the next morning, the men found their Zodiac shredded by a bear. There was still a little flotation left in the back, so they folded the raft in half, wrapped duct tape around it and managed to float down the river to safety.

The way Cox figures it, he wouldn't be alive were it not for the tape, invented in the 1940s to waterproof artillery boxes during World War II.

Alecia Cole, garden center manager at the Wasilla Wal-Mart, takes duct tape along on camping trips. The hardy silver tape is good to wrap around coolers or fish boxes. It also comes in handy when life's little necessities call for some privacy, she said.

''You duct tape a tarp around four trees and you have a temporary outhouse,'' Cole said.

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