FUQUAY-VARINA — Timothy Day isnt exactly sick of corn by the end of the summer, but
If I had a penny every time Ive heard, This is a-MAZE-ing, Id certainly be rich by now, he says with a chuckle.
Over the past couple of months, Day has cut more than 50 corn mazes. Someone else does the designs, but theres definitely some artistry in the way he spins that steering knob.
My paintbrush is a rototiller, Day says, and a tractor hooked to it.
Most people associate corn mazes with Halloween, but the work starts long before October.
Days season began the last week in June. Since then, he and his partner have been as far north as Ontario, Canada, as far south as Florida, and to almost every state between here and there.
Its not out of the ordinary for us to drive 3,000 or 4,000 miles in five days and cut out 10 or 12 corn mazes in that amount of time, says Day, who lives in Edinburg, Va., and whos been doing this since 2005. Our truck is our hotel. We actually sleep in the truck most of the time. We keep either the tractor driving or the truck driving, one or the other. One of us is driving something almost 24 hours a day.
Day cuts for Maize Quest of New Park, Pa. Company owner Hugh McPherson says this season has been a logistical nightmare.
The rain has been sending us to scheduling haywire for the cutting crew, says McPherson, aka The Maze Master.
He and Day have to stagger the cutting schedule to catch the corn at just the right growth stage. If its too mature, the plants will grow back in the paths hes cut.
Day likes to cut the corn when its about waist- or chest-high, but thats not just for practical reasons. Hes allergic once the corn tassels sprout.
Basically, anywhere that the pollen touches me, I just get a really itchy rash, says Day, who ran into that problem this year outside Memphis, Tenn. It gets to where the pollen is so thick in your eyes you can feel the grit on your eyeballs and, literally, for three days my eyes will run yellow.
Little room for error
Once he gets to a farm, its all fairly routine.
First, he drives around the fields perimeter to establish the boundaries for the GPS system. Then he fits the design into that shape, and the computer does the rest.
Theres very little room for error in our corn mazes, he says. Theyre tight-packed. The trails are close together. So a little mistake breaks through a whole wall and changes the whole maze.
With some designs, Day who runs a landscaping business the rest of the year has to go in with a lawnmower.
And occasionally hell arrive to find that the fields not quite big enough to accommodate the artists vision.
And then I get to play a little bit of designer on the fly, he says. Its kind of fun when that happens, too.
Most of the work takes place between sunup and sundown. But Day has been known to cut in the dark.
Youve got to trust this more, he says, hoisting the little black box in his right hand.
Fighting various elements
Sometimes, getting to the job is the hardest part.
On a recent Saturday, Days truck limped into this little bedroom community south of Raleigh just before dawn.
He was supposed to cut the field at Naylor Family Farms on Aug. 16, but a band of thunderstorms turned him away. He was scheduled to do another maze in Chesnee, S.C., the next Friday morning, and decided to hit Naylor before dusk that evening.
But just outside Charlotte, Days pickup truck started giving him trouble. Hed just swapped out the transmission a few days earlier, and now the new one was going out on him.
Not wanting to let Robert Naylor down again, Day picked his way across the state driving 15 miles, stopping to let the truck cool down, then going another 15 miles.
It took me 15 hours to get here when it should have taken four, the bleary-eyed redhead with the days growth of beard said with a wan smile.
The majority of mazes Day cuts are five or six acres, though he has done fields as large as 13 acres. The stand of corn at Naylor Family Farms is just shy of 10.
Fun getting lost
Naylor went with a pirate theme last year. This season, he chose a maze called Escape from Egypt, with pyramids, palm trees and a giant camel at the center.
This is Naylors third year doing mazes. He says it takes him a couple of weeks to memorize the path.
Its easy to get disoriented even if you have your map, he says as turkey buzzards circle overhead. And thats the point of it, I guess. Its kind of fun when you get lost if youre not in a hurry.
Day isnt just a Maize Quest employee. Hes also a client.
His brother, Jonathan, runs Bridgemont Farm, a 500-acre spread in Virginias picturesque Shenandoah Valley, where the family raises corn, soybeans and beef cattle. Day cut their design in July.
The 12-acre field is divided into two interconnected mazes The Great Train Adventure, with a giant steam locomotive, and The Dinosaur Adventure, featuring a triceratops and a tyrannosaurus rex.
The big rush is over, but Days odyssey wont truly be finished until late November or early December, when he heads to Palm City, Fla., to cut a winter maze.
Despite the grueling, sometimes monotonous schedule, the maze-maker has avoided maize malaise.
I like corn, Day insists. I love corn.