Steering wheel: Onaway Steers The World.
Big Wheel next to ruins of former steering wheel factory,

Giant Metal Heads and World's Largest Steering Wheel

Field review by the editors.

Onaway, Michigan

Many of Tom Moran's best giant welded steel-plate artworks are displayed in Awakon Park in Onaway, a sculpture garden whose development was spearheaded by Tom's wife Marilyn Knapp Moran. The park winds along a wooded trail behind the burned-out ruins of the Lobdell-Emery Wooden Steering Wheel Factory. One of the sculptures in the park is a 30-foot-tall World's Largest Steering Wheel, which Tom made in 2014 as a tribute to Onaway's former status as Steering Wheel Capital of the World.

President Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford has gold skin, electric blue eyes.

"If it wasn't for my wife, none of this stuff would be around here," said Tom of his sculptures. Before Marilyn put her foot down, Tom would usually auction off his artworks, or sell them, or melt them down, because he couldn't stand to see their imperfections (Even if no one else could). The sculptures that he did hold on to were sometimes displayed in less-dignified places such as a softball field and a car wash.

Killer robot.
Tom's "Iron Man" is more killer robot than Marvel superhero.

Awakon Park, which opened in 2015, features two of Tom's giant U.S. President heads: a 9,000-pound Abraham Lincoln (made in 2009), and home-state hero Gerald Ford (2012), who has electric blue eyes. We asked Tom why he gave Ford gold skin. "I kinda don't know," Tom answered. "Sometimes you just get to the end and you want it done and you pick a color." Tom said that devil-red Lincoln was originally gold, too, "then we covered him with multiple clear coats tinted with root beer until I got the shade I liked. That was supposed to be a penny color."

President Abe Lincoln.
Devilishly-red President Abraham Lincoln.

Other notable sculptures in the Park include a menacing robot named "Iron Man" (2010), a 20-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty's head (2008), and the "Unknown Soldier" (2007), whose helmet is made of over 500 plates of welded steel. The soldier, who has no mouth, originally had mirrors for eyes to suggest the thousand-yard stare of a combat veteran. They were replaced with eyeballs when the big head was moved to the Park. Tom said that people found the mirrors "creepy," and he wanted to make the soldier less frightening.

Another benefit to Tom's art being in Tom's hometown, at least for the public, is that Tom now has to keep an eye on them, and sandblast and repaint them when needed, a process that Tom said is not cheap. "But if they're gonna be here, I'm gonna make the best of them, make sure they're displayed and maintained properly," Tom said. "They've found their home now."

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Also see: Welded Wonders: Big Art of Tom Moran

Giant Metal Heads and World's Largest Steering Wheel

Awakon Park

21090 M-68, Onaway, MI
Awakon Park. West edge of town. On the north side of M-68 just west of its blinker light intersection with M-33. Entrance to the Park is just west of the Subway.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

32-Foot-Long Steel Sturgeon32-Foot-Long Steel Sturgeon, Onaway, MI - < 1 mi.
Giant Washington Head and Aircraft CarrierGiant Washington Head and Aircraft Carrier, Onaway, MI - < 1 mi.
Giant Crucifix and Nun Doll MuseumGiant Crucifix and Nun Doll Museum, Indian River, MI - 19 mi.
In the region:
World's Largest Limestone Quarry, Rogers City, MI - 22 mi.

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June 3, 2020

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