Tag Archives: world’s largest

Giant Potato sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Two-ton tater tot

Oh, the fates were cruel to me this day. I happened to pass through a town that shared my last name, and in that town I stumbled upon a giant fiberglass potato. In front of a potato museum.

Which had closed an hour before.

Now, really. That’s just not fair.

Cut Bank Penguin sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Tuxedo twins

Bless their hearts, these birds aren’t quite so elegant as the Topeka Wren, but that’s no reason not to stand proud and proclaim their purpose.

Actually, even that is a little muddled here. Maybe Cut Bank really is the coldest spot in the nation… just don’t tell International Falls, MN. Or, you know, the entire state of Alaska.

Yard Bird sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And Washington’s famous Yard Birds store? Well, it’s defunct. But that’s okay—the 60-foot namesake (12th bird?) is alive and well, and standing for something, at the very least.

Topeka Wren sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Wrented wings

I’m always up for the hokey and awkward when it comes to roadside attractions, but every now and again you find a true masterpiece.

Case in point: the Topeka Wren (formerly the mascot for WREN radio in Lawrence, KS) nearly took my breath away. This bird is a couple decades older than your average roadside statue, so that may explain the difference in style. But what I love is how true to form the sculpture is. The sweeping bill and tail defy the parameters of what concrete can achieve, and the pose is incredibly lifelike.

I know, I know—it’s completely nuts to wax poetic about giant concrete birds. But if roadside sculptures were oil paintings (which is a comparison I often make, heaven help me!), I’m pretty sure this is the one DaVinci would have created.

Darwin, MN illustration by Chandler O'Leary

And the winner is…

I don’t normally post on Thursdays, but I had to break in here to tell you that the Giant Twine Ball in Darwin, MN is the clear people’s choice! No disrespect to its lovely (and technically larger) sisal-sister in Kansas, but the voters have spoken, and by an overwhelming margin, Minnesota’s masterpiece is the clear winner. Congratulations, Darwin—you’re a superstar in my book.

Thanks to everybody who cast their vote here on the blog or on social media! The Tailor is extremely grumpy about the outcome, of course, but I’m glad y’all set the record straight.

Blue Whale of Catoosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Feeling blue

I’m not sure if kids used to find this guy diverting or terrifying, but the Blue Whale of Catoosa is still just as memorable as he must have been in his heyday.

Blue Whale of Catoosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This spot was once a roadside swimmin’ hole along Route 66. These days it’s just a roadside monument, but that’s okay—it’s not like we were there at the right time of year.

Blue Whale of Catoosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It didn’t matter—all of a sudden, we felt like we were eight years old again.

Blue Whale of Catoosa sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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Today is the last day to vote for the best Twine Ball! Hurry and cast your vote, and we’ll declare the winner on Facebook tomorrow!

World's Largest Ball of Twine sketches by Chandler O'Leary

Never the twine shall meet

The Tailor and I have been having the same argument for years now. It’s really one of those fundamental debates in life, revolving around the universe’s most pressing question:

Which Giant Twine Ball is better?

World's Largest Ball of Twine sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Now I’m going to tell you up front: Kansas is the Tailor’s home state. So I think it’s bias talking when he tells you (and anyone who’ll listen) that the World’s Largest Twine Ball in Cawker City reigns supreme.

World's Largest Ball of Twine sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Okay, okay, I’ll grant that it’s the actual World’s Largest. It’s over 40 feet in diameter, and made up of nearly 8 million feet of twine. Impressive, yes. But here’s the thing: this monster was a community effort. Every year they hold a “Twine-a-thon” and add more string to the beast. I don’t know why, but much as I applaud the community spirit, somehow that feels like cheating to me.

World's Largest Ball of Twine (by One Man) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

By comparison, the 12-foot Twine Ball in Darwin, Minnesota seems kinda puny, I know. But at 17,400 pounds, it’s no lightweight. And more importantly, this one was made entirely by one man: Mr. Francis A. Johnson, who wrapped twine four hours a day, every day, for 29 years.

When was the last time you devoted your life to creating a roadside masterpiece? Not even Pee Wee Herman’s rubber-band ball has that kind of single-mindedness, my friends. And—and! Frank’s creation is the subject of a Weird Al song—which, as far as I’m concerned, is the final word on the subject.

World's Largest Ball of Twine (by One Man) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I think we need to settle this once and for all. That’s right, it’s time for a Twine Ball Smackdown. Maybe a twine tug o’ war would be the most appropriate venue to solve this, but I only have pencils and pixels at my disposal here. So in the spirit of democracy, I’m putting this up for a vote.

Here’s where you come in: leave a comment stating your favorite Twine Ball—or if social media is your thing, you can vote by Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest. And help spread the word! We want a mandate on this thing, folks—let’s get out the vote, and give either Mr. Johnson or the good folks of Cawker City a decisive victory.

Cast your vote in by Wednesday, October 8, and I’ll declare a winner on the Facebook page on Thursday. Hurry—twine’s a-wasting!

Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Kings of the road

Well, if I’m going to spend all this time talking about roadside attractions, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the legendary Muffler Men—guardians of gas stations, presidents of photo ops. If you’ve ever taken a road trip, you’ve probably seen at least one of these guys along the way.

These behemoths started appearing in the early 1960s (the very first one was on Route 66), to promote the brand new International Fiberglass Company in California. For whatever reason, they usually ended up in front of gas stations, holding giant mufflers—hence the nickname.

Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

By 1970 there were thousands of them around the country, but the 1973 oil crisis forced the decline and eventual demise of International Fiberglass. These days the muffler men are an endangered species, down to just a few hundred stalwart lads (and a handful of lasses, too!).

Saloon Cowboy (Muffler Man) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For me, finding them has turned into something of a quest—and not just because I’m a completist (though, of course I am). You see, the most fun thing about these guys is that they’re not identical—there are many, many variations on the original design (and a few knock-offs, to boot).

Paul Bunyan Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Probably the most common variation is the Paul Bunyan—they’re certainly the most recognizable, even when their axes get stolen.

Paul Bunyan Muffler Man sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And when they’re spiffed up to their original glory, they’re unmistakeable. (This one is a mobile muffler man! When he surprised me at the local Daffodil Parade a few years ago, it felt like Christmas had come early.)

Carpet Viking sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Though I’ll never pass up any iteration of Paul Bunyan, I’m most excited about the rare, extreme variants, the roadside sideshow—the Uniroyal Gals, the Happy Halfwits, the Carpet Vikings.

Harvey the Rabbit (Muffler Man) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And best of all are the mutant modifications that have happened to some of these guys (you should have heard me squeal when I found this one!). Some have been altered so much as to be rendered almost unrecognizable. But you can’t fool me—once a muffler man, always a muffler man.

So tell me: have you found any muffler men in your travels? Do you have one in your neighborhood? I’m always on the look-out for a good one, so if you have any recommendations, I’m all (rabbit) ears.

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Golden Driller sketch by Chandler O'Leary

You know the drill

Well, I suppose if you’re going to have roadside attractions, you might as well devote some of them to the road trip idea itself. And if you’re going to do that … well, I guess it follows that somewhere there’d be a monument to petroleum, nectar of the road trip gods.

Golden Driller sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And at 76 feet tall, Tulsa’s Golden Driller is guaranteed not to let you forget what fueled your little pilgrimage. (Am I the only person who can be made to feel guilty by a roadside attraction?)

Bob's Java Jive sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Short and stout

I am pleased to tell you that Washington is the proud owner of not one, but two teapot-shaped buildings. (Well, one is a teapot and the other is a coffee pot, but since the designs—and even the colors—are nearly identical, I think that’s close enough.)

The first might just be, as advertised, world-famous. Tacoma’s very own coffee pot was once a well-known landmark along old Highway 99, until the Interstate was built and businesses along the old thoroughfare faded into obscurity (a story as old as the Interstate itself). The place is no longer a restaurant, but is still in operation—now a dive bar with a different name and a cult following. Now that the coffee pot shape is a non-sequitur, it seems like everyone in my town loves the place all the more.

Teapot Dome Gas Station sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Lesser known, slightly older, and much farther off the beaten path is the Teapot Dome Service Station. This beauty sits on the eastern side of the Cascades, though it has been relocated a few times around the area. It now sits, newly restored (though now with cheesy fake gas pumps), in the tiny orchard town of Zillah, WA. It’s much smaller than the Java Jive, and has more of a ho-made flair to it, but what really interests me is that it was a political statement.

In 1922 Zillah resident Jack Ainsworth constructed the building in response to the Teapot Dome oil scandal (bribes, conflicts of interest, no-competition bids for military contracts, corrupt land leasing, the works!), which was in the news at that time. I love that Ainsworth made such a witty statement about the oil industry by building a gas station.

And his patrons? Well, they would have stopped at the teapot for a tankful, probably asked in jest for a cupful—and in return received an earful.

World's Largest Moose sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Moose missive

If you’re looking to do a Canadian Stereotypes tour of the Trans-Canada Highway, you’ll be happy to learn there’s no shortage of moose statues, Tim Horton’s or poutine shacks along the way.

Sault Ste. Marie sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Shocker, I know.