Flag pole painter visits Picayune

Published 12:36 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Painting a flag pole could be daunting work for people with a fear of heights, but not for one man who tours the country collecting earning his living doing the work.

Alabama native Russell “Russ” Tucker stopped in Picayune as part of his regular cross-country trip. He stops in various towns to add a coat of paint to flag poles, using nothing more than a paint brush, paint in an old bleach bottle and a rope.

Tucker painted the flag poles at the Picayune American Legion on Monday and planned to paint the flag pole at the local VFW, which he does every two years. He tried to get the post office to pay him to paint its flag pole as well, but Tucker said the manager was waiting on clearance from his boss.

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As he got ready to paint the flag pole at the American Legion, Tucker cut a bleach bottle to make a homemade paint container. He said while it may look unorthodox, it works. He then got his rope ready by tying it in a well-practiced manner, preparing it for the climb. In just a couple of minutes, he had shimmied to the top of the pole and had his brush in hand adding a fresh coat of paint.

For the past 34 years Tucker has been traveling from coast to coast across the country painting flag poles where he can. During the winter he sticks to southern states, then heads north in the summer. In just about every town he visits he has regular customers, just like the Picayune VFW and the American Legion. Even in tough financial times he finds that most people will still fork out the dough to keep their flag pole looking good.

“These guys keep that flag pole looking good regardless,” Tucker said.

With too many customers to count, Tucker said he climbs and paints flag poles if they are attached to the ground or the top of a building. The highest place he said he has ever been was at the top of a flag pole on top of a 30-story building.

Prior to taking on his present job Tucker said he worked on truck bodies and even attended nursing school, but figured he could make more money painting flag poles.

From time to time he paints flag poles for schools in the towns that he visits where children will sometimes come out and watch him work. He said he sometimes takes that opportunity to give the children some friendly advice, telling them, “you need to stay in school or might end up painting flag poles.”

At times, his willingness to climb high places enables him to help fire fighters, he said. However, he still wouldn’t claim a lack of a fear of heights.

“I’m not a squirrel or a monkey,” Tucker said.