One of the more interesting things I look for on roadtrips as I pass through small communities on back roads is yard art. Funky art and decorations in people’s yards, on their fences, on their houses. People have ingenuity. Some people have junk. But, as the saying goes, “One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Treasure.”
For me, Yard Art is anything unique and unusual. It could be chain saw art – wood carvings made with chain saws. It could be art made from scrap metal. It could be, like the photo above, a hodge podge of signs, junk or other things. Following are some selections of yard art I have taken over the years. Don’t judge…some of these people love their “collections.” I just love my collection of photos of theirs… Enjoy the virtual ride.
As I travel the backroads of America and Canada I always run across all sorts of what some call “Yard Art”. Others call it folk art, offbeat art, quirky things, etc. Well, there is the whimsical and fun, there is the unique and then the downright strange. Some of the sites, like Cadillac Ranch above, are world famous. Others are in the middle of nowhere and are happenstance and unexpected. Following is a menagerie of quirky and offbeat whimsy and creativity that I have seen. Enjoy the ride and see if you have been to any of these places…
SCRAP METAL DINOSAURS AND DRAGONS
Perhaps one of the most common types of yard art I see is scrap metal work. And it seems that dinosaurs and dragons are the most popular. Here are a few.
(UPDATE II – May 2015: On a recent trip to California, I discovered this great piece called “Horn Dragon” by Upper Lake, CA artist Diego Harris. It certainly fits into this post!)
(UPDATE – October 2013: I have found another great scrap metal artist besides those noted below. Visit my post on Larry Vennard from Centralia, Missouri)
SCRAP METAL CRITTERS
Of course, dinosaurs and dragons are not the only creatures (critters) that can be seen out on the road. Here are a few more scrap metal (found metal) critters from all over…
Of course, dinos and critters are not the only things made out of scrap metal. People are too. Perhaps the biggest and most impressive scrap metal people I have ever seen are the three that comprise the “Tin Family” at the end of the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota (if driving from I-94 or first one if driving from Regent, ND). The Dad is 45 feet tall, Mom is 44 feet tall and the Tin Kid is 23 feet tall. But, there are many more that are unique. Here are a few scrap metal folk found on the road…
Then there is the most magnificent of all scrap metal art pieces, the World’s Largest (according to the Guinness Book of World Recrod’s). This is at the entry of the amazing Enchanted Highway in North Dakota:
CHAIN SAW ART
Obviously, scrap metal is not the only medium used in the creation of yard art. There is a ton of work don with chain saws and wood. I have seen hundreds of pieces dot the country. Here are a few from all over…
The epitome of Chain Saw Art is the Chain Saw Totem Pole forest in Medford, Wisconsin. Chainsaw Gordy has gone to a whole new cut above…. 21 poles with nearly 400 chainsaws in them, all done by Gordy Lekies.
MAILBOXES AS PART OF THE ARTWORK
Though not nearly as prevalent as Chain Saw art and metal art, there are the occasional unique mailboxes to be seen on the back roads of America. I have passed dozens of plastic John Deere mailboxes, fish and cow mailboxes, etc., but then there are the really unique ones….
TOTALLY JUNKED OUT PLACES
Folk art abounds in this country, but there are some who have taken it to excess with knick-knacks, whirly-gigs, old toys, old stuff and more…and all in one place. Some in the name of art and some just to, well, have a place for their stuff. Though I have seen many across the country, here are some of the more outlandish examples (with two or three shots from each place)
Moving on to Woodstock, Ontario and Cliff Bruce’s Windmill Hill, another menagerie of the unusual….(see my writeup here)
Then there is the Flower Man House in Houston, Texas. Built by a man who had been a homeless alcoholic for years, he decided to turn his life around and began putting together his interestingly eccentric colorful house, which sits in an otherwise bland neighborhood.
And just around the corner from the Flower Man’s House is another quirky place – the Law Offices of Tim Hootman. His office is in a brightly colored boxcar and has some unique art sitting outside the place. Really funky…
If these are not quirky enough, how about this place in Lima, Montana…is it a shop, a restaurant, a hotel or just someone’s knick-knack collection? It was closed, so I couldn’t really find out….
If you liked the place in Lima, how about the Junk Store in Buena Vista, Colorado? This place seems to everything (you may not want or need)!!
I came across this fence in Parker, Idaho… completely made of roadsigns
In the small town of What Cheer, Iowa, a lady has gussied up her yard with old wheels, implements and even has a real “flower bed”!
Came across this little “health food store” in Gardner, Colorado, called H Food Store – Huajatollas Foods (see YouTube Video):
And finally, we discovered a couple of places on a back road in central Kentucky. We took Highway 77 (Nada Tunnel Road) and first came across a barn with a hubcap collection:
And we also came across this house near Orlando, Kentucky
Finally, this unique house in Talent, Oregon along with their Shoe Tree:
There are literally hundreds of fun town names around the U.S. and I have barely scratched the surface with them. In my last post, I noted many names that are common adjectives or descriptive. This post will have some signs from some of the more unusual place names and hopefully, a little about how the names came to be.
Rabbit Hash, KY – This small town of about 40 people is right on the Ohio River in Boone County. Besides its name, it is also famous for its string of mayors…all dogs. Nobody really knows for sure when the original name of Rabbit Hash came to be. According to a Wikipedia article, ” The hamlet was originally known as Carlton and was required to change its name because mail was being mixed up with the larger community of Carrollton several miles down the Ohio River. It is still the Carlton voter precinct. During the early 19th century the town, now known as “Rabbit Hash”, was well known for a rabbit hash meal. Steamboats often stopped to order the famous hash as they traveled along the Ohio river. A local legend states that, in 1831, a pirate ship docked and entered the town, where they proceeded to burn all of the buildings and kill every person. The next steamboat to stop for hash saw only a three foot sign with the words “rabbit hash” written. It was the only structure standing, and was thought to be the name of the town.”
Metropolis, IL – Like Rabbit Hash, Metropolis is located along the Ohio River, very close to Paducah, Kentucky. And it really is not a Metropolis (as is typically represented in the Superman movies), but is probably much closer to the Smallville of Superboy fame. Note the similarities in the two signs above. Metropolis has had a people living in the area for thousands of years, but the town got its name back in 1839 when the town was platted. Everywhere you go there are Superman things, including a giant statue in town square. The town also has another giant guy at the grocery store. It is also the home to Fort Massac State Park, a great historical site.
-A couple of things of note:
On January 21, 1972 DC Comics declared Metropolis the “Hometown of Superman”.
On June 9, 1972 the Illinois State Legislature passed Resolution 572 that declared Metropolis the “Hometown of Superman”
The city holds an annual Superman Celebration held the second weekend in June.
The local newspaper is named The Metropolis Planet, inspired by The Daily Planet, the fictional paper in Superman’s Metropolis.
Toad Suck, AR – This name apparently comes from the days when steamboats ran the Arkansas River, well before the current Lock and Dam were built. Legend has it that when the water was too low, the sailors would dock the steamboats and refresh themselves at the local tavern where they would “Suck on the bottle ’til they swell up like toads.” Toad Suck is actually only the name of the park. The town is Bigelow, Arkansas. However, there is a Toad Suck Convenience Mart that sells Toad Suck Souvenirs and just down the road in Houston, AR you can chow down on steaks at Toad Suck Bucks. You can even visit and like their Facebook Page.
Santa Claus, IN – Unlike its counterpart North Pole, AK, Santa Claus is in a much warmer climate. According to the History of the Town, ” it was a child who provided the inspiration in naming this community after Santa Claus. Going into the fall months of 1852, there was no Santa Claus community. Residents of the area had spent months trying to select a name for the community but none of the proposed names carried universal appeal. Then, on Christmas Eve, as the congregation gathered at the church for yet another meeting, the sound of bells was heard outside. ‘Santa!’, a jubilant child rang out, ‘It’s Santa Claus.’ “That’s it!”, shouted one of the elders. ‘Why not call it Santa Claus?’ The residents all agreed and the town of Santa Claus was born.” Like Metropolis, everywhere you turn there are Santa Claus statues. The Post Office is the only one in the world named Santa Claus. The town is home to a number of unique Christmassy shops and also has a small amusement park called Holiday World.
Hop Bottom, PA – This town is located in Susquehanna County and is very near Nicholson, PA, home of the famed Tunkhannock Viaduct. Though the name sounds funny, it does make sense. The nearby creek bottom at one time was covered with Hop Vines, yes, the hops used to make America’s favorite alcoholic beverage. as of 2010 there were about 350 residents in the small scenic town.
Tightwad, MO – This is by far one of my favorite road trip stories. The town, located on Missouri Hwy 7, is very small — only about 30 or 40 residents. It was unincorporated until 1984 though there has been a Post Office there since the early 20th Century. Supposedly, the town’s unusual name is said to stem from an episode in which a store owner cheated a customer, who was a postman, by charging him an extra fifty cents for a better watermelon. There is a real bank in town called the Tightwad Bank, which I have written about on some of my other blogs, including this one. The bank sells T-shirts, mugs and hats and you can open an account and get checks with Tightwad Bank on them. The Tightwad Cafe does not take credit cards.
Dr Pepper, TX – This is the only “fake” sign in my set today, housed outside the Dublin Bottling Plant, which used to be the only place in the world that sold Dr Pepper made with the original pure cane sugar recipe. On 12 January 2012, it was announced that Dublin Dr. Pepper will no longer be produced, after the Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Company settled a trademark dispute instigated by Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Until that time, the town would have one day out of the year when they officially became Dr Pepper, Texas. The Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling was the oldest remaining Dr Pepper bottler until 2012, producing the beverage continuously since 1891. As for the sign…every June the town would have Dr Pepper Days and the town, for that one day in June, would officially become Dr Pepper, Texas. By the way, notice that the population on the sign is 1024 – from the original 10-2-4 of Dr Pepper.
Bucksnort, TN – Yes, there really is a town called Bucksnort. Its a small unincorporated community in Hickman County, Tennessee. It is located near Exit 152 on Interstate 40, a few miles east of the Tennessee River, just down the Interstate from Only, TN, which I wrote about in my last post. This town name has an unusual story. Apparently, the moonshine business was quite active in the 1880′s. There was a man named William “Buck” Pamplin who sold his homemade brew and people would say “Let’s go to Buck’s for a snort”. As people often do the whole phrase was condensed down to “Bucksnort” and it stuck. True or not, it makes for a great story. By the way, there is also a Bucksnort in Alabama.
Black Gnat, KY – Black Gnat is a Green county community about five miles northeast of Greensburg on US 68. Tradition says the community name stems from a time in the late 1800s when the schoolhouse was being painted white and hordes of gnats covered the building.
Fly, OH – While on the subject of bugs, how about Fly, Ohio? This is home of the Fly Ferry Landing. It is just across the Ohio River from Sistersville, WV. Not sure where the name came from.
Drain, OR – I love the sign “Entering Drain.” Made me feel like my trip was about to go down the Drain. Actually, Drain is quite a quaint place. Like other unique towns in Oregon such as Talent and Boring, Drain was actually named after Charles C. Drain, who had emigrated west and purchased the land Drain now sits on back in 1861. The town eventually grew around the Drain Train Station of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Today, the town is a small touristy place, famed for the “Drain Castle“, an old Victorian house that is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Drain is also home to a couple of old covered bridges.
Three Brothers, AR – Located in historic Baxter County, I could not find much pertaining to this little dot on a map. There is a Three Brothers Church and a Three Brothers Cemetery. But that’s all I know.
Marked Tree, AR – Keeping in Arkansas, Marked Tree, is the only town in the world named Marked Tree. Of even more interest is that the town may be the only one in the world that is located between two rivers a quarter of a mile apart flowing in opposite directions. The town got its name in the 1880s. The settlers chose “Marked Tree” because of an “old marked tree” on the bank of the Saint Francis River near the railroad camp. The story goes that Osage Indians traveling northward up the Saint Francis River marked a tree at the first point at which Little River is only ¼ mile distant across the land between the rivers. By dragging their dugout canoes across this short portage to Little River they could continue their trip northward and eliminate eight miles of up-river paddling.
Fair Play, SC
Fair Play, SC – This is a small town in Oconee County, in the northwestern corner of South Carolina. There are a couple of churches, a couple of stores and a big lumber yard. Did lots of digging and all I could find was that the town gets its name from a fight.
DISH, TX – DISH (yes, it is officially all caps) is in Denton County, northwest of Dallas. his community, established in June 2000, was originally named Clark. In November 2005, the community accepted an offer to rename itself “DISH” (all capital letters) as part of a commercial agreement with the satellite television company Dish Network.
Bugtussle, Texas – Bugtussle is at the junction of Farm Road 1550 and State Highway 34, ten miles south of Honey Grove and five miles north of Ladonia in southeastern Fannin County. The community was initially called Truss, after John Truss, who settled there. It was founded in the 1890s and had a post office in 1893–94. Later the town’s name was changed to Bugtussle. The most popular legend is that the name commemorated an invasion of bugs that spoiled a church ice cream social although a variation on this anecdote suggests that the relatively isolated spot, long popular as a site of Sunday school picnics, offered little else for picnickers to do after they ate than watch the bugs tussle.
Bugtussle, Kentucky – This is literally on the Tennessee border in Monroe County. The community was named by local comedians for its doodlebug population.
A final note: The fictitious Bugtussle, TN was the home town of Jed Clampett, from the Beverly Hillbillies.
Tomahawk, WI – Next is a chop chop of the Tomahawk. The town of about 3500 traditionally traces its founding to the establishment of construction camps for a dam and a railroad in 1886. The company leading the effort was the Tomahawk Land and Boom Company, headed by William H. Bradley, who is thus considered to be the principal founder of Tomahawk. The town site was platted in 1887, with lots sold in Milwaukee that summer. The city was incorporated in 1891. In the 10 years after the first construction camps were built, Tomahawk grew rapidly, boasting many stores, a three-story hotel, many saw mills, a paper mill, and service via three railroads. Today is a stop on the road, but there are a few places to eat, a giant moose statue and an interesting sculpture with eagles in the middle of town.
Earth, TX – Back to Earth folks… This town on U.S. Highway 70 and Farm Road 1055 in northwestern Lamb County, was established in 1924 by William E. Halsell. Originally Halsell called the place Fairlawn or Fairleen, but it was renamed Earth, supposedly for a sandstorm blowing when storekeeper and first postmaster C. H. Reeves had to come up with a name acceptable to postal authorities in Washington. Earth was incorporated in 1947. They do have a great time with the name. Ironically, it is about a 3 hour drive from the alien infested town of Roswell, NM.
Muleshoe, TX – Since I have it in the photo, how about if I close with Muleshoe. The town derives its name from the Muleshoe Ranch which was founded by Henry Black in 1856. The town was incorporated in 1926. It had been founded just 13 years earlier, when the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway laid tracks across the agrarian expanse of Bailey County.
Part IV: Some faraway places right here on earth….