I was able to get in touch with the dad who made this incredible Viking ship for his son. Read step by step instructions below. (They only spent $30 to make it, too!)
I can’t remember exactly how we decided upon a Viking ship, but it was probably because Tyler loves the movie “How to Train Your Dragon”. We had looked on the internet and seen several pictures of wheelchairs decorated like tractors and race cars, so we had the idea that we could try our hand at a Viking ship.
I had worked on floats for parades several times, and I recalled using a building material called fiberboard. This is a fiberglass material that comes in 4’X8’ sheets, with a dull brown texture on one side and a shiny aluminum like material on the other. I want to say it retails for $10-$12 per sheet. The great thing about fiberboard is that it is pretty strong, yet it’s flexible and very lightweight. So I bought 2 sheets, some small cans of latex paint (brown, black, white, blue, red, green, yellow), and 2 rolls of masking tape to hold it all together. I sketched out the design of the ship on one sheet of fiberboard, until I had it proportioned just right. I had also measured his wheelchair to make sure my cutout would “fit” between the wheels and frame and that the overall cutout wouldn’t overwhelm the wheelchair. After I made the first cutout, I used it as a guide and sketched the other side, then cut that side out. I had enough space left on the scrap pieces to cut out six circular pieces to use as shields. Every good Viking ship needs shield down the side.
Now that I had the cutouts, we needed to bend them so that they would curve, coming to a point to form the bow of the boat. So we carefully shaped each of the two pieces, very gradually applying crease to the fiberboard. Fiberboard bends rather easily, but it can pop so you have to be careful. To create the dragon’s head at the bow of the ship, I used scrap pieces in between the two cutouts to create the blocky shape. This really gives it a realistic look. We used plain old masking tape to stick the scrap pieces together, then wrapped the entire dragon’s head in masking tape, at least 2 layers. Also, the ship needed masking tape all along the front to cover the open spaces between the two cutouts. I think I used a scrap piece cut into a V shape to help it hold its shape in the front. We made sure to face the coarse side of the fiberboard out, as it would be easier to paint.
So now the ship’s bow looked great, but the rest was pretty plain. A base coat of brown paint, then some black to give the illusion of seams, then a little red and yellow on the dragon’s head for flames, and now we have a good looking Viking ship. We then took the six shields, faced the aluminum side of the fiberboard out, and painted them colorfully in green, red, and blue. We finished the shields off with a single layer of masking tape along the outside edge, painted black. The shields were then taped onto the ships sides. As an added touch, I brushed some waves and foam onto the front of a ship, to give it the illusion of crashing through the ocean. I used blue, a little green, and then tapped on some white for this.
When we made the cutouts, we had cut out slots so that the sides of the ship would fit down over the axle of his wheelchair. This held the weight of the ship, especially the main body very well. I think I may have also taped an extra piece of fiberboard where the axle cutout would be, to help strengthen it. The front of the ship was still pretty heavy, but I used wire coat hangers taped to the inside of the ship walls and bent them so that they would catch on the foot rest of his chair. This worked very well. I suppose some string or twine would do the trick here as well. The back of the boat was completely open, so that we could still have access to push him around.
Overall, I believe we spent about $30 on this costume, and maybe 5-6 hours of labor. It held up very well, and we were able to take it off and put it back on several times that Halloween night. We kept it for several months afterwards as well, before finally throwing it out due to lack of space to keep it. The key to this whole project was lots of masking tape. The more, the better as each new strip just adds strength to the structure.