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Topics / HOLIDAYS : A Walk on the Wild Side : Again this Halloween, the Switzers' carved jack-o'-lanterns will line their long, scary Sierra Madre driveway. The sight attracts thousands of people each year.

October 27, 1994|CYNTHIA WALKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Getting to Bud and Donna Switzer's yellow house in Sierra Madre requires walking up a curvy 250-foot, tree-lined driveway. At night, the route is pitch-black, and for young children, pretty scary.

"It really bothered me that kids wouldn't come up to the house at Halloween," Bud said. His wife added: "But now look what he's got himself into."

What he's gotten himself into is 50 humongous pumpkins that right now take up most of the front porch.

This weekend, as they have every Halloween for the past 15 years, Bud, 66, and his son Kevin, 30, will scoop out thousands of seeds from those pumpkins, pull out hundreds of handfuls of squishy insides and carve the skins into elaborate faces that Monday night will transform the Switzers' potentially spooky Alegria Avenue driveway into a wild walk among candle-lit jack-o'-lanterns.

Halloween loneliness is no longer a problem. Last year, the jack-o'-lanterns attracted more than 5,000 people.

"From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., the place was packed, kids came from all over the area and there were a lot of adults who just came to admire the pumpkins," Donna said.

Bud, a retired Hughes Aircraft worker, wouldn't disclose how much he spends on the pumpkins he buys in Camarillo, but said he and his son spend two solid days carving the 100-pound squashes, using nothing more than a five-inch fruit knife.

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With the pumpkins' twisted smiles, outlandish pointed teeth and expressive, lifelike eyes, the father-and-son team have turned what many consider a chore into something of an art, although Bud said he rarely plans a design. "The faces are all in the pumpkins, just waiting to come out," he said.

Once finished, the great orange fruits, which take two people to carry, are lit with candles that exaggerate their freakish features, said Donna, who doesn't carve herself, but helps with the massive cleanup.

"There are always more seeds than we can use," she said. "And we use the rest of the pumpkins as mulch for our trees."

A lot of work is involved in their unique Halloween ritual, admitted Bud, who almost didn't do it this year. And he didn't want his exact address given out because crowd control has become a problem, although he doesn't mind if folks drive by for a peek.

"My son was very intent on keeping up the tradition," he said. "It's become a real family event that Kevin will probably take over one day."

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