F.A.S.T.: Fiberglass Statue Mold Yard
Two-lane blacktop. Small town. Large statue of a scaly sea monster, or a club-wielding caveman, or a humongous green vegetoid. It's majestic, and you find yourself wondering, "Where do they build these big things anyway?"
And if you're like us, the next thing you'll say is, "That's a place I want to see!"
That place is the workshop of Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks Corp., or simply FAST, just outside of Sparta, Wisconsin. A studio of commercial superlatives, it has worn the mantle of American titan-builder for over 30 years. Other notable fiberglass artists and regional companies ply their craft with skill, but FAST is still the place towns and businesses turn to when they want something eye-catching and stylishly impressive.
A list of every FAST creation would be tiresome (and impossible, given the company's capricious record-keeping), but two of its biggest are the 200-foot-long sea monster at House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and the 145-foot-long muskie at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin. The mighty muskie took nine months to sculpt in 1979 and is still the biggest fish in the world. Like all FAST creations, it's built of non-biodegradable fiberglass that will continue to awe travelers well into the 22nd century.
Traveling to FAST in hope of seeing some behemoth fresh out of the casting mold or paint shop would be hit-or-miss tourism. But FAST is still a satisfying destination thanks to its Mold Yard, a grassy, open field behind the factory strewn with hundreds of molds from previous jobs.
"Most people think this stuff is junk," said FAST president Jim Schauf, gesturing toward the mirror-image inventory of saddled jackrabbits, bears in coveralls, and toothy shark heads. "They don't realize that it's really the lifeblood of our company." Reusing old molds saves money, so FAST rarely throws anything away. The tough fiberglass is available for jobs even in the depth of winter. "You throw some salt on the ground, loosen it up, then dig them out," said Jim. "We run year 'round."
The company welcomes curious visitors to the Mold Yard, but cautions against climbing on the fiberglass and advises tourists to watch out for wasp nests. It has a peaceful junkyard ambience on a warm afternoon, where visitors can take their time pondering the Devil head next to the old woman who lives in a shoe, and the large, fat, mouse grinning among the weeds. Although Jim insisted that the molds were carefully categorized and organized ("We would know if one disappeared.") they're arranged in a way only that only FAST understands and that Jim was unable to explain.
As we pointed to individual favorites and asked, "What's that?," Jim recalled which statues were made from what molds. A giant Native American became four titanic drummers that now pound a drum-shaped building on an Indian reservation. A huge brontosaurus head was part of a life-size dinosaur entryway to gas station in the Wisconsin Dells. "I lost a few years off of my lifespan because of that," Jim recalled. "I wouldn't want to make another one of those." No need to, Jim; it's in the Mold Yard!
Despite Jim's claim that "when you get big, you get stressful," he acknowledged that FAST has set the standard for roadside gargantuanism, and he shared our loathing of inflatable sculptures and their promoters. "I don't think they appreciate craft and artisanship and the ability to make something really nice."
FAST's reputation for size sometimes give its clients bigger dreams than they can afford. Jim told us of a customer in Sturgis, South Dakota, who wanted FAST to build a 30-foot-tall motorcycle. "'Holy mackerel,' Jim recalled, 'how wide is that? What's that gonna be like when you try to take that down the highway?' He wanted it so huge, you're talking semi-loads."
When Jim finally figured out a price, the client "was pretty upset about it" and nixed the deal.
It's times like these that Jim really appreciates the Mold Yard.
"During the week, when things get stressful," he said, "it's a nice place to take a walk. Just kind of look around, cool down." We wanted to talk more about FAST's showpieces, the kind of projects that give Jim his heartburn, but he preferred to look out over the Mold Yard, perhaps recalling the countless water parks and kiddy playlands that have been outfitted with its more humble, reusable creations.
"The ones that excite you guys," he said with a laugh, "are the ones that we lose money on."