By Adam Rosenfeld
Off the hustle and bustle of Route 7, a 12-foot-tall, 56-year-old man made of scrap metal stands out front of Dixie Sheet Metal on Gordon Road.
Sculpted in 1962 by an employee at the shop, the Tin Man, better known by his nickname “Mr. Dixie,” was originally made for the Falls Church Memorial Day Parade as an advertisement for the company.
“It used to be on wheels,” former owner Paul Puckett said. “They would pull it behind a pickup truck down the parade route. It didn’t cost any money because they just had to pay the young guy that worked here.”
Made from pieces of sheet metal, parts of air-conditioning units and a wind turbine ventilator, the sculpture was loosely based on the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.
For 30 years Mr. Dixie would sit on top of Hazleton Laboratories, the building that would later become the Kia dealership situated there today. The Tin Man pointed his arm down the block toward the shop as if to encourage residents to visit.
Eventually the monument was moved to directly in front of the shop to appease the tenants of the laboratory.
The wind turbine ventilator head, which spins in the wind, would make noise and aggravate the animals that they were experimenting on in their laboratory.
“Sometimes the head would squeak and those animals would hear it,” Puckett said. “So the guy in charge named Dr. Hazleton knew the owner of Dixie Sheet Metal, and he said ‘You gotta move that thing!’”
The statue has undergone numerous paint jobs throughout its life but only one time did his colors change.
The owners decided to paint him red, white and blue following the attacks on September 11, 2001 and in response to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The red and black which currently covers his body is a copy of the original coat which was given to him half a century ago.
To this day, “Mr. Dixie” sits in front of the shop as a landmark of the Falls Church community.
“Kids come to take pictures with it,” Allen Withers, one of the shop’s current owners said. “Photographers come all the time, and wait for the sun to give them the right lighting. I mean it’s a 12-foot-tall tin man, you don’t see one of those every day.”
Although his head no longer spins and his body rusts, Withers said the shop will never forget about him.
“We’d never get rid of him,” he said. “Every so often he needs a little maintenance, his hat might need adjusting or he might get a little rust on him so we’ll scrap him down and repaint him, but other than that he’s been pretty much unchanged since he was made.”
This is the second in a series of articles by the News-Press highlighting landmarks and curiosities around the Falls Church area. Have an idea for a future article? Send your suggestions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.