North Freedom, Wisconsin
Dr. Evermor merrily manipulates bits and pieces of the historical slipstream. He's been constructing God knows what behind Delaney's Surplus since 1983.
Dr. Evermor is occasionally known as Tom Every, a scrap artisan who owns a local salvage and dismantling business. He's built the World's Largest Sculpture on a science fiction landscape, from old carburetors and discarded power house machines -- like Japanese RPG weaponry from the Age of Steam. Oft imitated by "Visionary Art"-wannabes, none have seriously challenged the Doctor's ingenious conglomeration.
From the highway, the top of the 320-ton Forevertron is barely visible, its trans-temporal egg chamber poking up above the foliage. A few devices, fanciful Victorian howitzers and strange extrusions, sit along the roadside -- no signs or other warning of what lies beyond.
You walk behind the surplus store into a spider-silent alien carnival. Dozens of mechanical creatures, ranging from waist-high to 20+-feet tall, flock in clearings. Disintegration chambers, spaceship gun turrets, and huge insectoid contraptions are obliquely arrayed. There are no labels or explanations, so you'll need to talk to Dr. Evermor himself. We missed him during our first visit years ago...
We're in luck this trip: Dr. Evermor greets us in his trademark pith helmet, cigar in hand.
His greatest achievement is the Forevertron, "designed and built in a timeframe of around 1890 ... whereas our dear doctor is a scholarly professor who thought he could perpetuate himself through the heavens on a magnetic lightning force beam inside a glass ball inside a copper egg. You have to understand that at the time electricity and magnetic forces were not fully understood." Tom's anachronistic third person patter is critical to grasping how the Forevertron operates.
"This device is called the Graviton. The doctor would have to stand in that to de-water himself, to get his weight down, before going up that spiral staircase, going across the little bridge, and getting into the glass ball inside the copper egg."
We are treated to a walking tour around the base of the Forevertron. "Everything here correlates to making the trip." Tom waves his cigar towards a gazebo that sits atop a metal tower. "Royalty would sit in the Teahouse for a commanding view. Doubting Thomases look through the telescope to see if the Doctor made it. Two people sit in the Doctor's Celestial Listening Ears over there and listen to voices from the heavens. At night they would measure astrological bearing points, and transfer that information to Overlord Control, which I'm building right over there..."
The structures perch on weathered concrete, the grounds of a long ago demolished schoolhouse, a level stage for the freestanding metal modules of copper and steel.
"On the other side we're building a Juicer Bug to give us extra juice. The eyes are made from survey markers."
Tom points out significant items welded into the main contraption. "The Forevertron is built from important historical material, including those dynamos, which were constructed by [Thomas] Edison around 1882 -- they come from the Ford Museum. And this unit was the decontamination chamber from the Apollo space mission. A lot of the rest is from power houses from the 1920s."
Hold on -- that's lunar decontamination salvage? "The Apollo decontamination chamber was in three trailers [donated to a university]. We wrecked and scrapped most of it, but I kept the two autoclaves that the moon rocks were passed through." Tom is pretty proud to have this neglected piece of America's space program. "We contacted NASA to try to get papers authenticating it, and boy -- they're very touchy about what happened to that stuff. We did get the original drawings and it's the same damn thing."
While the Forevertron is huge, imposing, much of Tom's work is delicate and whimsical. The 70 members of the Bird Band are lithe percussive instruments or tall string instruments.
"I'm about the only guy that's using preexisting shapes and forms where they lose their original identity and become something else, without any alterations to that shape or form."
Tom doesn't use blueprints or drawings, and has no traditional art schooling. "No sketches, no models, no nothing -- I just go for it." This is pretty amazing, since sculptures like the Juicer Bug are fifteen tons, and will be hoisted up on spindly insect legs. "Everything here is free floating. I got these bug toenails up in the air, but I don't want a toenail falling off on somebody." He develops his own construction solutions, so far without mishap. "No engineering firm could compute the compression on these legs."
Tom is slowing down, walking from sculpture to sculpture a bit more tentatively. Tom's wife Eleanor and son Troy pitch in on the creation. Troy runs the dismantling business now. Why is Tom still building? "Why not?" he answers. He thinks of it as "an inspiration to other people to look at things in a different perspective."
Tom ran his successful salvage business for many years, and his artistic side contributed to works in the nearby House on the Rock. "Yea -- I designed the carousel. I haven't been out there since 1982. And all those rooms, those fantasy rooms I designed and built those." There has been bad blood between the good Doctor and the House, which we won't go into, but suffice to say that you should try to visit both for a truly memorable day.
These days he's excited about a proposal to move his entire complex across the street to the old Badger ammo plant. "We would like to move the Forevertron and other things over to Badger Ordnance and make a permanent memorial to the munitions workers, a repository for art from around the world, and kind of a good-spirited thing for the state of Wisconsin." If he can get through all the government "hootchikoo," it may ensure the Forevertron won't end up on somebody else's scrap heap when Tom "highballs it to heaven."
Update: Tom no longer hangs out at the Forevertron, so don't expect to see him when you visit. But he's still planning and building stuff with the help of his son, Thayer, so there's a good chance that you'll see his latest creations.