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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The World's Largest Twine Ball

Ask any Minnesota resident where to find the world's largest twine ball, and they will surely direct you to Darwin, MN, about sixty miles due west of downtown Minneapolis.

I think I first heard of the Darwin ball back in 1962 when this picture ran on the wire services.

It was only eight feet in diameter at the time and only weighed in at about 4,000 pounds.  Francis A. Johnson was the owner and winder.  He was born in 1904 but didn't start winding until 1950, at age 46.  Little did I know that I would one day see the ball in person!

When Johnson died, he willed the twine ball to the city of Darwin and they have treated it well, building a gazebo and publicizing it.  Here are a couple of pictures I took back in 2005 when we visited it to show a visiting Swedish couple what Minnesotans do for entertainment during our cold winters.
TwineBall-2 TwineBall-1

Recently, we discovered that there was another candidate for world's largest twine ball and that it was only sixteen miles away from our cabin in Northwest Wisconsin.  Yesterday, we headed up toward Lake Nebagamon to check it out.  Now, getting to this twine ball is not as easy as getting to the one in Darwin.  Basically, you go north on US 53 from Gordon, Wisconsin about 14 miles until you reach County L.  Then, three miles east on L to County P, two miles north on P to Minnesuing Road and another two miles East to Oakdale.

OK.  Where's the twine ball?  You are now at this intersection. The twine ball is in the shed with the green roof indicated by the arrow.

Take a look.

Now mathematicians who are reading this are immediately going to call, "foul!"  "That's not a ball.  It's an oblate spheroid."  Normal people, of course, are just going to say, "It looks like a giant M&M."

But let's consider the tale of the tape.  The Darwin ball is reported to weigh over 17,000 pounds.  But the Lake Nebagamon ball is currently at 20,300 pounds and is still growing.  The circumference of the Nebagamon ball exceeds the Darwin Ball.  The earth is also an oblate spheroid - where do we draw the line?  Consider also that this ball is colorful and weaved in a very distinctive pattern.

The owner/winder of the Nebagamon ball is James Frank Kotera, known locally simply as JFK.  Kotera started winding on April 3, 1979.  That year, by the way, is the year that Francis Johnson quit winding on his ball in Darwin.  Kotera actually started two balls on April 3, 1979.  Besides the large one, he started a second, very round ball, which he nicknamed, "Junior."  He stopped that one at 47 pounds in honor of his birth year, 1947, and it is available for a really good look.

JFK is the dump attendant for the township of Highland.  He is definitely a "numbers guy."  He proudly notes that he got 2,471 bags of trash into the Waste Management dumpster when it finally filled on July 8th of this year.  And how does he know that the big ball weighs 20,300 pounds?  He puts the twine into a bucket and weighs it before adding the twine to the ball.

If you want to try winding a championship ball yourself, start early.  Johnson put 29 years into his ball and JFK is already at 33 years of weaving.

For more information on large twine balls including ones in Kansas and Branson, check here, here, here and here.

To see Charles Kuralt's 1977 "On the Road" report on the Darwin ball, go here.

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