CASEY – The writing is on the wall if you want your town to get on the write side of tourists and their dollars.
The bustling Clark County burg of Casey has seen the message writ large: all 32 feet and 500 pounds of it, to be exact.
It takes the form of a slim and elegant yellow pencil, complete with monstrous pink eraser on one end and sloping down gracefully to a real graphite point, capable of impaling an elephant or writing Paul Bunyan's shopping list.
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but this pencil could beat your typical war cutlery into a sissy plowshare any day of the week.
The pencil rests on a suitably sturdy stand in downtown Casey and is the latest in a series of giant curiosities called “Big Things in a Small Town.”
The principal mastermind underwriting their creation, Jim Bolin, says the way to attract visitors and commerce to wee towns is to rewrite the landscape of roadside curiosities that once hallmarked the great American road trip.
And he's been a busy boy. Backed by talented craftsmen at his family-run BEI Pipeline & Tank Maintenance firm, in the past few years he has already gifted Casey with the world's largest wind chime at 55 feet tall and 8.5 tons. The town also boasts the world's largest golf tee at 30 feet tall, 3.5 tons and the world's largest pair of knitting needles at more than 13 feet long, and the world's largest crochet hook at more than 6 feet long.
Signs advertising these glories are dotted along Interstate 70, and their siren song for driver eyes jaded by the passing blur of interstate monotony can prove irresistible.
Which is precisely how the Bray family: dad Andy, mom Juliana and 7-year-old twins Bailey and James, along with big brother AJ, 9, and sister Callie, 4, came to pull off the road and find Casey.
They'd been returning to their Greenbrier, Ark., home from a family vacation in Canada when the roadside signs touting Casey's giant charms caught their collective eye.
The Brays had teed off their Casey stopover with the giant golf tee and were now gazing in wonder at Godzilla's pencil.
“Yeah, we had seen the sign for the world's largest golf tee, and we saw the sign for the world's largest wind chimes, and my husband said, 'Come on, let's stop.' And now look at this,” said Juliana Bray, 44, looking suitably impressed in the shadow of the portentous pencil. “It's real interesting to see.”
And here lies the Bolin theory of small-town economics in action: You get visitors to stop, get out of their cars and start wandering around downtown (Casey's attractions are within easy reach of each other), and you're halfway home.
“Maybe they need something to eat, kids want an ice cream or the car needs gas,” explains Bolin, 50. “You get people on their feet and walking past stores, it's not hard to get them to also walk through the front door and look at something.”
He once figured out that Casey has close to 1,000 vehicles an hour zipping by on the interstate and dipping into even a fraction of that fast-flowing stream offers up a lot of tourist potential.
The trick is to keep the record-breaking curiosities coming, and Bolin and his team are sure working on it. Current projects include the world's largest wooden shoes, at 2,500 pounds apiece, a novelty yardstick, precise in every detail that is 36 feet long and a 54-foot-tall rocking chair that will actually rock.
Other Casey businesses are catching the spirit of the exercise, and Bolin's craftsmen are finishing off the world's largest coinlike “wooden token,” measuring 13 feet across and weighing 3,000 pounds. It was commissioned by the Casey State Bank, and its decoration scheme will include the bank's logo and pictures of the town's other big things.
And also scheduled to open before the end of the year is what is billed as the world's biggest mailbox. It will be 36 feet long, 12 feet wide and 16 feet tall.
“It will hold 5,800 cubic feet of mail, and you will be able to post a letter in it,” Bolin says. “And when you do, it will trigger a motor that will raise a 14-foot-tall flag arm on the outside. It will stay up for 15 seconds and then come down again.”
No matter how far you've traveled and how much you've seen, it's hard to resist this kind of stuff for sheer curb appeal.
Karlie Mucjanko was in town from Perth, Australia, on business and recalls being fascinated back home as a kid Down Under with a four-story pineapple you could climb up.
Mucjanko, 37, says everyone everywhere loves oddity: “I think people are just seeking something different and interesting, things like Casey has,” she says. “And people are seeking a bit of fun, too.”
Even Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has cast an approving eye on Casey's giant claims to fame and was particularly taken with a monster pitchfork (it's 60 feet in length with metal tines close to 20 foot long) that's another world record contender.
Due to be on display soon at Richards Farm Restaurant, it features a biblical verse emblazoned on its handle: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Bolin met Rauner before he was sworn in and had made him an offer: “I tried to get him convinced to take that fork with him so he could use it to help him clean out Springfield,” recalls Bolin with a wicked grin.
“I got a laugh, but he didn't buy into that … I guess it probably would not have been appropriate.”
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