Rubber band man comes to Chevy Chase auction

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
The secret to building a giant rubber band ball is Isotoner driving gloves, record-holder John Bain said. ‘‘I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get from kids asking me how to make a rubber band ball without getting blisters on your hands,” he said.

John Bain sprayed Armor All on the world’s largest rubber band ball, oblivious to the people on Wisconsin Avenue gawking through the auction house window.

‘‘It helps make it shiny and it also puts a protective layer over it,” Bain said.

Dressed in a camouflage T-shirt and khaki cargo shorts, Bain, a 28-year-old bicycle builder from Wilmington, Del., delivered his record-setting creation to Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers in Chevy Chase on Friday afternoon. At 3,300 pounds and 5 feet in diameter, the Guinness Book of Records recognizes Bain’s ball as the World’s Largest Ball of Rubber Bands.

The ball is one of the highlights at Sloans & Kenyon’s auction of ‘‘Americana, Washingtoniana and spectacular unusualia,” to be held Nov. 5-6.

‘‘It has to do with the American spirit,” auctioneer Stephanie Kenyon said. ‘‘The biggest, the best, the largest, the most wacky, whimsical, ingenious creations. It’s something about the inventiveness and American ingenuity.”

Bidding on Bain’s tribute to the American spirit will start around $15,000 to $20,000.

Other items up for bid during the auction include a model of the U.S. Capitol building created with approximately 217,000 cultured pearls and jeweled flag, an original 1934 Dick Tracy cartoon signed by Chester Gould, and a wooden jewelry box carved by Malcolm X during his 1952 incarceration at Charlestown Prison in California.

Bain started building the ball eight years ago as a mail clerk in a law firm. The ball is solid to the core with rubber bands. (Starting with anything other than a knotted rubber band at the center is cheating, he says.) Using rubber bands from packages delivered to the law office mailroom and free handfuls from the post office, Bain worked on the ball for about a year until it was 30 pounds and roughly the size of a basketball.

At that point, he said, his boss told him it was time for the rubber band ball to go. He moved it into his parents’ garage and around that time, Bain started thinking about going for the world record. His parents tolerated the project for years, despite Bain’s growing inability to control his creation.

‘‘It pinned me up against the wall once and I broke the drywall in my parents’ garage,” he said. ‘‘And once, when it was about 150 pounds, it was starting to not fit through the doorway, so I brought it down the steps and broke the bottom step in my parents’ house.”

The real challenge was finding bands big enough and strong enough to continue wrapping around the ball. By the time it was 50 pounds, the ball had outgrown any normal size rubber bands he could find, so Bain began writing to rubber companies asking for help.

Alliance Rubber Company in Hot Springs, Ark., answered the call and offered to sponsor Bain’s quest for the world record. The company began sending him boxes of industrial strength rubber bands.

In 1998, at 2,008 pounds, 12 feet 8 inches in circumference, Bain broke the 1978 world record. From there, he went on a publicity tour that included Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, Howard Stern, Regis & Kathy Lee and appearances on ABC, CBS and NBC news.

Bain continued to add onto the ball, outgrowing Alliance’s industrial-strength rubber bands and eventually his parents’ house.

‘‘For the longest time it was in my parents’ garage,” Bain said. ‘‘Then I moved out and my dad bought a nice car, so he wanted it out.”

It weighed 2,500 pounds when he left home. Recently, the ball has been outside his apartment building, which is one of the reasons Bain has chosen to part with his creation after eight years.

‘‘I’d rather have somebody own it and appreciate it than have it sit outside and rot.”

He left the ball Friday on its pedestal in the showroom window of Sloans & Kenyon and he plans to return next month for the auction. After that, it’s on to the next project. He has already covered a couch, a barstool, a coffee table and other pieces of furniture with rubber bands, but those are mostly just for fun.

‘‘I want to make the world’s largest ball made of bicycle inner tubes,” he said.

If you go

The world’s largest rubber band ball is on display in the Sloans & Kenyon lobby until it is auctioned off on Nov. 5.

Learn more about John Bain’s record-setting rubber band ball at his Web site,

Visitors to the auction house can also help build a new rubber band ball by donating to relief efforts for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. People can purchase a rubber band to add to the ball for a $1 donation, benefiting America’s Second Harvest and the American Association for State and Local History’s Historical Resources Fund, which Sloans & Kenyon will match. Call 301-634-2330 for more information about the auction.