Fargo film artifacts: script, ear-flap hat, ice scraper, snow globes.
Fargo film artifacts: script, ear-flap hat, ice scraper, snow globes.

Woodchipper from the Movie Fargo

Field review by the editors.

Fargo, North Dakota

The woodchipper from Fargo (the 1996 movie, not the 2014-2023 TV series) occupies a place of honor in the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center. Fargo (the film) is a dark comedy, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, that depicts the Upper Midwest as cold, gray, snowy, populated with quirky-talking people, and the scene of several brutal murders. The woodchipper is used as a grisly, bloody, body-disposal device. This makes it a civic totem unlike any other.

The
The "stunt double" woodchipper outside the Visitors Center.

The woodchipper's emblematic status in Fargo is especially anomalous because its only scene doesn't happen in Fargo, nor do most of the events in the film, two points that are stressed by Charley Johnson, president of the city's visitor bureau. "Someone," said Charley, "once asked the Coen brothers, 'Why did you name the movie Fargo when there's only one scene in Fargo and everything else takes place in Minnesota?' And they answered, 'We didn't think anybody'd go to a movie named Minneapolis.'"

Log leg-pusher technique demonstrated by Visitors Bureau marketing director Danni Melquist.
Log leg-pusher technique demonstrated by Visitors Bureau marketing director Danni Melquist.

Still, when people think of Fargo, they think of the wood chipper, so here it is.

"It wasn't a prop; it really worked," said Charley of the woodchipper, which is a Yard Shark with an eight horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine. "One of the guys on the crew [Milo Durbin, the dolly grip] bought it because he wanted to chip branches on his tree farm." This was lucky for the wood chipper, because the city initially had mixed feelings about the film ("People," said Charley, "were kind of indignant"). Then Fargo was nominated for seven Academy Awards (it won two), gradually became a cult classic, and Fargo's unease toward its Hollywood namesake mellowed. In 2011 the Fargo Visitors Bureau tracked down Milo and rented the wood chipper for a special event. "People liked it so much," said Charley, "that the Visitors Bureau decided to buy it."

Screen celebrity, farm workhorse, and now a Fargo icon.
Screen celebrity, farm workhorse, and now a Fargo icon.

(They also bought Milo's small collection of Fargo movie relics and put them in a Visitors Center showcase, including some of the fake ransom money seen in the film. Then a visiting Secret Service agent saw the counterfeit cash and said that its display was an arrestable offense. "We had to turn it in and count it at a bank," said Charley).

Today, over a quarter-century after the film's release, the woodchipper remains a pilgrimage destination. It is so well-known as a Fargo icon that the Visitors Bureau installed a second woodchipper outside the Visitors Center (Charley calls it "the stunt double") so that people who arrived when the building was closed would have something with which to take photos.

Fridge magnets celebrate the Fargo Theater and the movie.
Fridge magnets celebrate the Fargo Theater and the movie.

Indoors, the original woodchipper is Fargo's most famous photo-op, with a dummy human leg sticking out of its hopper (sometimes dressed with a Christmas stocking during the holidays). The Visitors Center even provides furry ear-flap hats for tourists to wear in their snapshots. Diehard fans arrive with props, including their own bespoke socks, which they slide onto the leg for photos, according to F-M Visitors Center marketing director Danni Melquist.

Over the years visitors have frequently mentioned that North Dakota was the last of the 50 states to which they'd traveled -- but Fargo has turned that lemon of faint praise into frosty lemonade. Those people are now instantly inducted as members of the Best for Last Club, complete with a souvenir photo and an official certificate.

Fargo's gradual embrace of Fargo the movie and its woodchipper has reflected a shift in civic America's acceptance of oddball claims-to-fame, a departure from the former we-don't-want-our-town-known-for-that, it-will-attract-weird-people attitude that had discouraged such linkages.

Fargo. Foot. Woodchipper.
Fargo. Foot. Woodchipper.

"Originally I would get some pushback from some of my compatriots around town: 'Can't we just get rid of that woodchipper?'" said Charley. "But it's paid off in a big way for us. It's okay to be quirky."

Woodchipper from the Movie Fargo

Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center

Address:
2001 44th St. S., Fargo, ND
Directions:
Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center, I-94 exit 348 north onto 45th St. SW, turn right on 19th Ave. S., turn right on 44th St. S., on the right.
Hours:
Summer daily 8-5; off-season 9-4. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Fargo Walk of FameFargo Walk of Fame, Fargo, ND - < 1 mi.
Space Aliens Grill & BarSpace Aliens Grill & Bar, Fargo, ND - < 1 mi.
Roger Maris MuseumRoger Maris Museum, Fargo, ND - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Large Toothbrush, West Fargo, ND - 1 mi.

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