Larry the Logroller comes back to life in Wabeno

May 29, 2013

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I got a late start out of Wausau and wanted very much to get up into the northeast section of the state. Regrattably I needed to move along and had to take highways where you don’t see much. I made it to Forest County and was on Hwy 32 when I passed through the town of Wabeno. Not much of a place, I thought, but I saw large crowds gathered at this covered monument of Larry the Logroller, with crowds standing in front of the taverns across the street with their cool ones, a sunny day, Memorial Day weekend. Whatsis I thought? So I do a New York u-turn and incredibly find a nice parking space in front of the park area of the festivities. So I stopped, parked and got out.

I sat down in some bleachers set up in front of Larry and asked the guy behind me what was going on. He said a tornado ripped through here and knocked down Larry. This is the new Larry, he said. A lady immediately corrected him and said, no, Larry was hit by a falling tree, and had to be rebuilt. I liked the tornado story much better, and as you’ll soon learn now that I know the real story I like the tornado story much better!

There was a logging museum right there and a really old time locomotive. So I decided to stay. I was only minutes away from the unveiling. Perfect timing on my part for a guy who knows nussing!

First, the unveiling, some photos of the crowds, and then the story, or some stories.

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Like I said, a nice crowd anxiously awaiting the unveiling of Larry at the park.

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Also a bunch of onlookers at the pub across the street, probably didn’t want to give up their seats!

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Some people put their wares on display for sale outside the logging museum.

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There’s the locomotive. Just a note on this. This one is labeled the G.W. Jones Lumber Co., Wabeno. That was George Washingon Jones, a Welsh immigrant. In 1892, after dabbling in the grain and banking businesses, he took a trip to the Pacific Northwest and started his lumber company focused not on pines as many others were, but instead on hardwood. He moved to Appleton in 1898 and expanded his sawmills throughout Wisconsin, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He also became a trustee for Lawrence College and served as its vice president for 26 years.

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Another shot. This is a most interesting contraption. It is a Phoenix Log Hauler. She was run by steam and had an operator for that in the rear cabin. But note the steering wheel up front. Also note the two wheels up front and the tracks in the rear. This baby was not meant to be on railway tracks, but instead out in the bush. A guy sat up front behind that steering wheel and as the engineer flipped on the steam and rolled her forward, the guy up front had to steer her. There is a real neat video on line showing the Wabeno machine in action. This is one of few operational machines of this sort. That video does not show her dragging logs, but the one on display does is attached to a wagon holding some pretty heavy logs, so she must have had a bunch of power.

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The Phoenix log hauler was built by the Eau Claire-based Phoenix Co. to bring logs out of the north woods. The company built about 175 of them. In the 1880s, Eau Claire boasted itself to be the largest saw milling center in the world. Prior to using this machine, horse teams of two or four horses could move one sled of logs at a time. These Phoenix log haulers could move up to 25 sleds at a time. The photo shows a Phoenix log hauler outside the company’s plant in the early 1900s. The
Chippewa Valley Museum has a nice writeup on the log hauler.

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To the left of Larry was a concrete bandstand with two guys singing and strumming.

We were five minutes beyond unveiling schedule and I saw people congregating on the bandstand, and saw a microphone show up and a couple guys looking to hold it. I, and several people with whom I was sitting, moaned a bit that there was going to be a speech or two. Forget the speeches, we want to see Larry!

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Now I can’t speak for the guy on the lift behind Larry, but he and some helpers had taken off the rope holding the cover. One of the guys on the bandstand started talking, and, well the guy on the lift started unveiling Larry, the crowd got more and more excited, and I suppose the speech was worthwhile but I don’t think many people heard it. So here went the unveiling.

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And there he is, Larry the Logroller, 21 feet high (so the sign says), shiny new, holding is log roller ready to go. The crowd was very pleased with the results. I enjoyed the heck out of this. Wabeno has about 1,200 people living there, and this was a proud moment. This is a glimpse of the Real America about which most of our politicians know nothing.

You will recall that in my first conversation with a gentleman from the area, he thought it was a tornado that knocked old Larry down. But then a lady said no, it was a tree, and we assumed she meant from a bad storm that ripped through the community last year. It turns out a very bad storm in May 2012 did knock down the bandshell next to Larry, and as you have seen, the base has been rebuilt but the rest still needs work. But that storm did not level Larry.

In order to prevent further storm damage in this park area, a logging crew was hired to clear trees in the park in January 2013. Robert McEwen, at the time a Wabeno park board member, said, “They got five or six down, the last one went the wrong way. The tree clobbered him (Larry) and he got kind of broken up a little.”

Larry was made of fiberglass. There was no doubt the town would get a new, repaired Larry. But one would have to say that old Larry, who has been watching over the Logging Museum, the park and the town for many years, was broken up more than a little bit. Here are some video grabs from Fox 11 News.

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Once the workers got to Larry, they could see he was broken into three pieces.

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Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Well, it was so, but the town’s people vowed to fix the old boy. Ron Piontek of Piontek Body Shop in Denmark, Wisconsin rose to the occasion, about 100 miles away. News reports said Larry was placed in an ambulance and taken to Ron’s shop. The actual statue itself is 15 ft. high.

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My guess is the job was done in late May 2013, and Larry was placed on a trailer and driven back to Wabeno. This and the next few photos are also from Fox 11 News. It is my understanding that Larry was not rebuilt from scratch, but instead was put back together and repaired. Wow! Way to go Mr. Piontek.

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Larry made it home to Wabeno on May 25, 2013, with workers there ready to set him up.

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The town brought in a crane and lifted Larry into position. It would be interesting to know how they decided to place that strap. I’m not sure how they did this. At first, I thought they tied the strap around his armpits. But this next shot seems to dispute that.

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From this shot, it looks like provision was made on his back for tying the straps. Anyway, you can see they have him straightened up. He was to go on the base to the right. You can see the rebuilt base for the band shell on the left.

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There, they have him down and are attaching him to the base. Just one more shot, which is fun.

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As you can see, by this time, plenty of management executives showed up to direct the project and the wise men of the town exchanged their thoughts on the quality of the work and installation. It’s always good to have plenty of executive managers around during a job like this! Ha! Second, I’m giving you a rough guess, but that looks like a Ford Model T Closed Cab Pickup, circa 1913 or thereabouts. Sweet machine.

We’ve got one more piece of business to conduct with Larry. It turns out, across the nation, there are statues resembling Larry which stand 18 to 25 ft. tall holding mufflers. There have been numerous sightings as reported by
RoadsideAmerica.com. They became known as “The Muffler Men.”

It turns out a fellow named Steve Dashew, who owned International Fiberglass, turned out thousands of commercial statues in the 1960s and 70s. He used a single statue Paul Bunyan mold created for a cafe on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona and built it into a roadside industry. Paul Prewitt’s company, Prewitt Fiberglass, created this first one. Dashew bought the business from him in 1963. At the time, Dashew was in the boat business but was looking for a “filler” business for slow times. A statue he built for an American Oil gas station in Las Vegas was featured in a trade magazine. Sales doubled. While the basic mold design remained the same, many variations emerged of football players, a Mexican and Indian brave, and then other designs for things like dinosaurs came into demand. Eventually, the molds were destroyed and Dashew laments that he does not have a single sample left.

This is a great American sort in my book.