Big Chicken:No Eggs Laid
A Georgia Tech architect hatched an endearing landmark; some Cobb County residents would be lost without it
By Gary Goettling
Hubert Puckett
Hubert Puckett designed the famous Marietta "Big Chicken."

Hubert L. Puckett, Arch '57, has devoted a 40-year career to designing metal buildings that dot the landsacpe as airplane hangars, warehouses, recreational facilities, even churches. His largest and most complex design is a manufacturing faciiluty for Intermarine Shipbuilders in Savannah, a mammoth structure that boasts 22- and 10-ton bridge cranes mounted on top of other bridge cranes.

But Puckett's most famouse creation towers 56 feet over Cobb Parkway in Marietta, Ga. The Big Chicken is not only a whimsical architectural novelty, but something of a navigational star in East Cobb County. Locations are comomnly explained in terms of their proximity to the Big Chicken.

Now a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, the sheetmetal bird originally called attention to the Chick, Chuck and Shake ice cream parlor it housed, and later a Johnny Reb's hamburger stand.

The Cobb County landmark dates back to 1963 when gimmicky them architecture, especially for ice cream stands and fast food restaraunts, was at the height of its popularity. At the time, Puckett was working for Dixie Steel Buildings, a newly formed division fo Atlanta Steel, as a design engineer.

"The Big Chicken ws no big deal," Puckett said, referring to its celebrity status. But design and construction of the fabled fowl was a very big deal indeed.

"We had a salesman sho, I guess, was desperate to sell something," Puckett said. "He went out and sold a restaraunt owner on the idea of building his place with a big chicken on top. The salesman almost got fired over that job because we weren't in the business of designing chickens.

"Since it was an unusual shape, the engineering took a lot of time. Every single piece had teo be detailed individually. In the metal building buesiness, everyting is fast, fast, fast. You can't take six months to design a project. The Big Chicken slowed us down considerably."

On two occasions the Big Chicken dodged the executioner's bulldozer, most recently in 1996 when a storm inflicted heavy damage to the structure.

"Hundreds of people came out here to show their support for preserving the landmark," said Bambi Palmer, who owns a gift shop inside the Big Chicken. "People were quite upset that anyone would even think about tearing down such a beloved local icon."

Palmer's shelves testify to that affection with a variety of Big Chickenalia--salt and pepper shakers bearing the chicken's profile, T-shirts, coffee mugs, napkin holders and the like.

"Many of our customers want some kindo of souvenir to send friends or family who have moved far away, to remind them of home," she said.

Big Chicken Restored

The popular outcry forced KFC management not only to back off demolition, but to restore the Big Chicken to its original condition, including repairing the mechanism that moves the beak and rolls the chicken's eyes. Spikes added to the top of the stucture, it is hoped, will keep away pigeons, whose droppings have a tendency to gum up the works.

When Puckett, an Atlanta native, was wokring on the Big Chicken and other projects in the early 60's, designs and calculations were tediously worked out on a slide rule. Compter aided design has since made the process faster and easier, "but I don't think any computer program could have handled the Big Chicken," Puckett chuckled. Computerized design has made a world of difference in the metal-building industry by amplifying its attributes fo quick construction and low cost, Puckett said.

"The design process is totally automated now," he explained. "You input all teh specifications, including biulding codes and load factores, and the computer designs every piece right down to the door jambs and headers. Teh computer will price everything out actually makes the drawings.

That's not to say that the computer has completely replaced the skills Puckett learned at Georgia Tech--sometimes there is no substitute for experience.

"You get a real feel for a design when you've done it by hand, and that helps when you have to deal with unique situations or custom work," he said. "There are certain techniques that give you a more effiecient building that you can't get from a computer program."

The hard work paid off

Puckett, who lettered in gymnastics and was a team captain while at Tech, credits his years on North Avenue with providing more than an education, even though he didn't always like it.

"I try to design everything very efficiently to beat the competetion, and I learned a lot of that at Georgia Tech. You learn a lot more than engineering; you learn discipline and how to be competitive. It was a tough school, and I hated it at the time. I just wanted to get out and get over with, but all the hard work paid off over the years."

Puckett left Dixie Buildings in 1980 to become director fo technical research fo Ceco Crop. in Columbus, Miss. Seven years later, he joined Kirby Buildings in Portland, Tenn. Puckett planes to retire this year and move with his wife, Gwen, from the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville, Tenn., to a new home in Ft. Meyers, Fla.

Four years ago, Puckett formed U.S. Building Technologies Inc. with teh idea taht computer aided design software would enable him to continue designing buildings, and add a productive dimension to his retirement. He has several jobs under way in the U.S. and in the Bahamas.

"The problems you run into can be challenging, but working them out is satisfying," he said. "Seeing the finished product is rewarding and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I guess that's why I've enjoyed doing this work all my life."