CHURCH CREEK -- Whatever you expect to see on the road to Taylors Island, it isn't this. An 8-foot mosquito made of wire perches on the sign for Maryland Wire Belts Inc.
Tilting forward toward Route 16 where it winds through the handful of houses and a business or two that constitute Church Creek, the mosquito sits at the edge of the Kentuck Swamp in an area where the insect that inspired it is voraciously abundant.
"It's the Maryland state bird," deadpans Ronald G. Daringer, the chairman of Maryland Wire Belts and the man who had the mosquito placed on the sign about 15 years ago.
Orioles fans might differ with him, but there's no arguing with the mosquito's double-take quality for passing motorists: It's a regular stop for tour buses en route to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge a little farther down Route 16, and Mr. Daringer says they get the occasional inquisitor walking into the factory's office.
Mr. Daringer offers a fanciful version of the mosquito's history -- "When we first moved in here, we started clearing out, and we found a lot of mosquito skeletons and that was the only whole one" -- before presenting its true provenance.
"About 1977, a man came to work for us here who was the embodiment, the absolute perfect specimen, of the flower-child hippie," says Mr. Daringer, a 1958 graduate of the Naval Academy. "He wore a stocking cap and drove a blue VW with big yellow flowers on it come to find out, he was more artist than worker."
Before long, Mr. Daringer recalls, James Michael Vassar had asked for permission to take home some of the wire spirals left over from the manufacture of conveyor belts. Maryland Wire Belts sells its specialty belts -- many of them patent designs by Mr. Daringer -- to food processors and other businesses all over the world, employing 162 people and selling $19 million in belts this year.
A few months later, Mr. Vassar showed Mr. Daringer a small sculpture he'd made with the scraps, a mosquito about a foot long.
"I was so struck with it, I said, 'My gosh, would I love to have one of those 8 to 10 feet long,' " Mr. Daringer said. Mr. Vassar didn't say much in response, but he was back in the boss' office about three months later to give his notice. Before coming to Maryland Wire Belts, he'd been in Cambridge working at a boatyard; nobody knew much else about him.
"He said, 'I'm moving on -- I know how to make a boat and I know how to make a belt,' " Mr. Daringer says. But there was
something the departing worker wanted his boss to see out in the parking lot.
"There that thing was, setting in the back of a truck," Mr. Daringer says. Eight feet from wingtip to toe, it was made of aluminum wire and weighed about 150 pounds.
Negotiations commenced and $2,000 later, Mr. Daringer had his mosquito, and Mr. Vassar was headed west (and hasn't been heard from since).
"I guess I just liked the creativity of it -- somebody who could see pieces of wires and spirals," Mr. Daringer says of his affection for the sculpture that has put a grin on the Dorchester landscape.
Company records don't offer much else about the sculptor. He left in 1978, and as best Mr. Daringer can recall, the sculpture went up on the sign the next year.
And there it sits today, provoking the occasional question from a curious passer-by and smiles from passing motorists -- a little creative legacy from a Jack-of-all-trades who was just passing through Dorchester County on the way to somewhere else.
It gets seasonal accessories -- a Santa hat at Christmas, a little green on St. Patrick's Day -- but it has no official standing or representation on company stationery or any real connection to the conveyor-belt business.
It was just something that caught his fancy and has become part of the company sign, Mr. Daringer says.
I= "That's my mosquito," he says with a smile. "That's all."