Bust of Prairie Moon creator Herman Rusch.
Bust of Prairie Moon creator Herman Rusch.

Road Cheese Hypertour: Day 3

Road Cheese Hypertour.Intro | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

More Bovine Pleasures in Wisconsin

Dells to Duluth, Minnesota

We're up early for the Dells, which is not hard since it's not a morning kind of town. The pancake huts are just throwing fat on the grill. The cruise strip is deserted. But today we must reach Duluth, hitting important targets along the way up the western spine of Wisconsin.

Interstate 90/94 is the fastest way to cover the 60 miles to Sparta. We pass Tomah, a town with the underachiever claim "Where the 'I' divides," and an 18-wheel tractor-trailer perched on its end near Mauston, used as a mesmerizing sign for a gas station.

F.A.S.T.

Sparta, Wisconsin

Sparta claims to be " Bicycling Capital of the World," and displays a 30 foot tall gay 90s bicyclist in a town park. A 20-foot Spartan warrior stands guard on the front lawn of the high school.

FAST building. Both are products of that wellspring of fiberglass statuary -- F.A.S.T. -- only a few miles north of town. F.A.S.T. is a must-stop on every trip through the area, because you never know what you'll see. As new statues are completed, they're arrayed in a storage field adjacent to the fabrication workshops. Visitors are invited to walk around outside and take photos at their own risk.

Even more amazing are the acres of old molds strewn in a weedy lot behind the F.A.S.T. buildings. Observant commercial archaeologists will find dozens of familiar shapes and characters spanning several decades, as well as assorted giant human body parts and animals not indigenous to this planet.

Our next stop is the strangely familiar-sounding Rock in the House in Fountain City, along the Mississippi River. On our way one of us -- the same six +-footer who conked his noggin in Spring Green -- discovers that his long-necked root beer bottle does not seat securely in our vehicle's cupholder. He also discovers that one has to drive a good half hour from Fountain City to find carpet cleaner strong enough to purge automobile upholstery. Anyway, Rock in the House is a singular attraction -- meaning it's worthy of at least a 15 minute stop on a hypertour. [Read the complete report]

Prairie Moon

Cochrane, Wisconsin

Prairie Moon arch.The Prairie Moon Folk Art site is just 5 miles up Hwy. 35 from Fountain City. It's one of those places that sounds like it was great thirty years ago before the guy who built it died and everything he'd collected was sold off. Herman Rusch was that guy, a farmer turned folk artist who began his foray into dementia concretia when he hit his seventies. Rusch died at the age of 100, and although all his cool stuff was auctioned in 1979, his outdoor sculptures have been preserved by the thoughtful Kohler Foundation. Now the lawn is mowed and Herman's statues have a fresh coat of paint -- but all the foundation money in world can't hide that Herman built his museum next to a swamp, and the air is filled with swarming, bloodthirsty bugs.

We cut east on loopy hill roads, passing a Big Bull on a pole in Arcadia. Shortly thereafter, we enter a more civilized area with carpet cleaner, and our rental car is once again sin-free.

Thunderbird Museum

Hatfield, Wisconsin

8-legged pig.The Thunderbird Museum is a target pulled from a visitor tip on the Web site -- a place undistinguished save for the exhibit of an 8-LEGGED PIG. Hatfield is a vacation destination for people who fish, out in the middle of trackless pine woods. Population 5,000 in summer, 50 in winter. We spend a good hour just trying to find the turnoff for the place -- but an 8-legged pig isn't something you see every day.

The museum is an accumulation of town artifacts, historical dioramas, war memorabilia and the usual clutter that fascinates tourists when they're not busy fishing. The pig is displayed in a glass case (not a jar) standing on two hind legs, with a mirror behind to show the extra four legs growing out of its back. Thunderbird also has a tiny six-legged frog in a jar, a couple of albino squirrels, an Indian skull with a lumpy clay face, and a meteorite that fell nearby in 1973. On our way out of town, we read in Thunderbird's brochure that the museum also has "an original copy of the Declaration of Independence," but we were apparently too busy looking at animal freaks to notice.

September 2002: The Thunderbird Museum has closed, and the collection has reportedly been split up and shipped off to two other locations. Maybe other little museums in the area -- no other info....

Big Bovine #3: Chatty Belle

Neillsville, Wisconsin

For a quarter, Chatty Belle, the world's largest talking cow, spouts soothing pro-dairy propaganda outside the futuristic Wisconsin Pavilion from the 1964 World's Fair, which is now a radio station. On the other side of Chatty stands a glass-sided tractor-trailer housing the World's Largest Replica Cheese. Such gatherings of odd sights are rare and memorable. This one is tarnished only because the gift shop in the Pavilion sells really crappy postcards. [The Cheese vanished in 2005]

At Rice Lake, we pass signs for the Bear Paw Wildlife Museum, but still have a feeble hope we can do an update on the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame before it closes -- so we don't stop to investigate.

Hanging.At Shell Lake, the Woodcarving Museum seems out of place. The owner's promise that "It's like walking through a wood-en Bible" was enticement enough to get us here. [Read the complete report]

We snap a muffler man, skidaddling northward. Too late -- our journey through the Good Wood Book has cost us our chance to commune with the world's largest fiberglass fish in Hayward. The FFHOF will have to wait for our next Wisconsin trip. We also skip the Bong Memorial in Poplar -- a historical monument with funny name ("Hey dude! Meet me behind the BONG memorial!") in our effort to get to Duluth before nightfall. The many signs leading into town touting "Live Nightcrawlers!" only fuels our curiosity.

Thrills in Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth is a broad-shoulder shipping burg, sandwiched between Lake Superior and hundreds of mountainous piles of flux and taconite. Tourism is not its bread and butter, although locals are proud of its "famous aerial lift bridge" whose center span ascends into the stratosphere whenever a big ore-carrier chugs into port. Someone recommended a restaurant at the Duluth waterfront -- a former brothel, now haunted -- but the wait for a table is an hour, and all those nightcrawler signs have made us hungry. We opt for some Duluth Mexican food, then lurch out onto the waterfront.

At water's edge, next to the famous aerial lift bridge, is the Maritime Museum. Video monitors outside display the schedules of upcoming ore freighter arrivals -- like an airline terminal -- so that fans know when they'll chug past. It's quite a spectacle, as locals and tourists race out of the brothel to see a big ship float by. The freighter honks its greeting, the aerial lift bridge hoots in return, the folks on shore applaud, and one guy on the freighter yells "Duluth rocks!" to no one in particular.

Road Cheese home. On to Day 4... Duluth to International Falls, Minnesota


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