MILTON-FREEWATER — Tyler Hoel usually paints automobiles, not amphibians.
But when a well-loved, frog-shaped, fiberglass pool slide in Milton-Freewater needed a facelift, he was up to the task.
"It caught me off guard," TYCO Body & Paint owner Hoel said of Milton-Freewater Public Works Department contacting him about the refurbishing job.
"The frog's aged over the years, so city Public Works asked me to fix the wear and tear and make it look new."
The frog slide was one of the original pieces of equipment installed in 1996 at the Joe Humbert Family Aquatic Center in Yantis Park, Public Works superintendent Brian Steadman said.
Staff took the frog out of commission before last season. The finish on its tongue especially, but also its body, had deteriorated from extensive use and sun damage, Steadman said.
The city couldn't justify the cost to replace the frog or send it back to the manufacturer for a facelift, he said. Instead, Hoel gave the city a reasonable quote for sanding and restoration.
"Tyler did an outstanding job, and the frog slide is safely stored just inside the main entrance," Steadman said. "We plan to reinstall the frog after the plaster pool resurfacing is complete. We hope the pool, along with the frog slide, can be back open for use in June."
Hoel's shop mostly handles auto work.
But fixing the frog "was nice to have as a change to everyday 'paint the bumper, paint the door, fix the car.' A different project," he said. "It was fun. It was a chance to get into airbrushing again, a good refresher course and to see that I still had the skill."
Airbrushing uses fine motor work with a little nozzle the size of a writing pen.
"It's like a tiny paint gun, like drawing, just with paint," Hoel said.
And through his work, details such as the frog's eyes, toes, haunches and the bumps on its back came to the fore.
A popular fixture, the 6-foot-tall amphibian stretches about 10 feet long from the stairs at its tail end to the tip of its unfurled tongue, down which youngsters gleefully slide into the pool.
TYCO employee Gabe Garcia repaired surface chips, cracks and splits. Hoel strove to make it look factory fresh, hand sanding and repainting it.
"It was hard to judge some of the colors as it was so faded and sun beaten," he said. "Does this color work or that color? I wanted to match the colors as close as possible to bring it back to its original state."
Hoel said he probably used 13 different hues, layering some to get proper shading and depth.
For example, the frog's body is mint green, meadow green and John Deere green. Paint for the tongue is pastel pink. The eyes gleam with bronze, Harley vivid black, Olympic white and victory red. Other colors used to highlight its features are blue, tan and beige.
Hoel also applied anti-slip material on the stairs.
All told, it took about two weeks to complete — maybe 30 hours, Hoel said.
"I was happy to do it, just 'cause a lot of people are going to see it, and it makes the aquatic center look better," he said.
Hoel, 35, opened TYCO in late 2017, but got his start in the field in 2004. He attended Walla Walla Community College for two years, worked at Jim's Body Shop in Milton-Freewater, then at Coachman Body & Frame Service in Walla Walla.