After an unsuccessful hunt for the largest otter in Fergus falls we set out to…
I have developed an unhealthy interest in the weird and unusual so when I found myself in eastern Minnesota the opportunity to see the World’s largest ball of twine was too good to miss. Looking at Wikipedia there are several claims to the largest ball of twine – which seems to fall into different categories. The ball of twine in Darwin has the distinction of being made of sisal and was rolled by an individual, Francis A. Johnson.
The ball of twine was something he started in March 1950, when he was at the ripe old age of 45, collecting and rolling scraps of twine from his family’s farm into a ball. After a while, neighbouring farmers would donate their scraps of twine. He was very particular about keeping a constant colour and symmetry (the ball was such a perfect sphere that Francis chained it to a tree, apparently fearful that someone might simply roll it away). As the ball got larger he used a railroad jack, designed to lift multi-ton box cars, to rotate the ball. After twelve years the ball weighed two tons! He continued to roll his twine ball until 1979 when he was forced to stop due to ill health. He died ten years later in 1989.
After his death, the ball was trucked into downtown Darwin (population around 350 … not such a big place), where it sits today. En route to its resting place, it was measured on a grain scale, where its weight was confirmed at 17,400 pounds or nine tons, making it the world’s heaviest twine ball. The ball was housed in a glass-walled gazebo to protect from the elements. This Minnesota oddity was immortalized in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s road trip anthem, “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”
Right next to the ball of twine is the Ball of Twine Museum, which we sadly did not have time to visit. It opens 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, April 1 – Oct. 1, Mon-Sun and by appointment the rest of the year. Inside the museum is a gift store and some exhibits the give additional insight into the creation of this spherical oddity. The museum also houses another of Francis’s collections; wooden pliers. He made tens of thousands of pliers from basswood.
These pliers are made from one single piece of wood – no glue or nails were used. They open, close and look functional, but they’re not. They’re sculptures.
The smallest was whittled from a match. The largest is 7 ft. tall and unfolds to nearly 20 ft. long—with 25 little pliers hatching from its handles.
So, if you find yourself travelling through central-eastern Minnesota take a detour to check out Francis Johnson’s multi-year obsession!
Address: 1st St, Darwin, MN 55324 Google Map
Find out more at Roadside America.