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After 44 years in James Frank Kotera's back yard, his twine ball was moved next to Highland's town hall.
After 44 years in James Frank Kotera's back yard, his twine ball was moved next to Highland's town hall.

JFK's World Famous Twine Ball

Field review by the editors.

Highland Township, Wisconsin

Every work of human creation needs a creator -- but to survive long-term it also needs a saver, someone of often equal vision. London Bridge, for example, was created by English engineer John Rennie, but it was saved by American oilman Robert McCulloch, who packed up the old, no-longer-wanted bridge and moved it to Arizona.

Terri Nelson and her crew pose after the ball's successful move.
Terri Nelson and her crew pose after the ball's successful move.

A similar second-life has has been given to the giant twine ball of Highland, Wisconsin.

The ball was rolled by James Frank Kotera, who called himself "JFK," "King Kotera," "Groundhog" (he was born on February 2), and "Dump Man" (more on that in a minute). He said he was inspired by a TV news report on the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, which at the time was the largest ever made by one man. JFK's life goal was to make one even bigger. From 1979 to 2022 he added twine to the ever-growing ball in his back yard, eventually creating an orange-tinted oblong orb 10 feet high and 22 feet wide. It weighs over 12 tons -- one of the four great twine balls of America.

Some people couldn't believe that the 12-ton twine ball would survive the trip, but JFK had wound it tight.
Some people couldn't believe that the 12-ton twine ball would survive the trip, but JFK had wound it tight.

Yet when JFK died in early 2023 his family viewed the twine ball not as a wonder, but as a liability. "They thought they would just dig a hole and bury it," said Terri Nelson, a neighbor and friend of JFK who often gave him twine for his ball. "They didn't think anyone would be interested in seeing it."

Terri was interested. She also knew that JFK would want his twine ball to be seen, and knew of the best place to put it on display: at the town's transfer station.

Transfer stations are usually places where people just toss their trash into dumpsters. Not in Highland. JFK, the dump man, worked at the station. He greeted each person who arrived, took their trash bags and recyclables, then carefully arranged them in the bins. His efficient packing saved the town thousands of dollars in hauling fees, and in gratitude Highland named the transfer station in JFK's honor. "Highland is wonderful," said Terri, commending its support of JFK. "I was gonna get the ball to the transfer station if it killed me."

Exhibits in town hall include JFK's 47-pound mini-ball,
Exhibits in town hall include JFK's 47-pound mini-ball, "Junior."

Terri raised thousands of dollars online to build a permanent shelter at the transfer station for JFK's twine ball, and recruited a platoon of Highland helpers for the big move even though she had no idea how it could be done. Eventually a local wrecking company volunteered a large crane, and on September 21, 2023, it gingerly reached into JFK's back yard shed and extracted the twine ball with underslung straps. "I was never so nervous in my life," Terri said. "People kept telling me, 'That thing's so old, it's gonna fall apart when they lift it up.'" But JFK had wound his twine tight. The ball held its shape. "I should have known better," Terri said. "Jim knew what he was doing."

The twine ball was wrapped in a tarp at the transfer station while the new shelter was built around it, and by Spring 2024 it was again open for visits by public, now beneath a sign christening it JFK's World Famous Ball of Twine. "He'd be thrilled to know it's next to the transfer station, because he loved being there," said Terri, "even though he'd be mad that it's not in his yard any more."

Signage, which includes a photo and text from an old Roadside America story, tells the history of JFK and the twine ball. Also outdoors is JFK's mailbox that he kept next to the ball in his yard, with a ledger that visitors can sign. Old ledgers -- the ball had visitors from as far away as New Zealand -- are kept next door in the Highland town hall, along with additional JFK exhibits including his miniature metal Dump Man, his ball of string, and "Junior," his 47 pound twine ball (JFK was born in 1947) that he would often pose with for photos. "He loved Junior," said Terri. The town hall is usually closed, but if anyone is working at the transfer station they should be able to let you in.

"Someone asked if we were gonna enclose it, and I said, 'No.' Jim always wanted people to touch his ball of twine," said Terri. But unlike the ball in Cawker City, Kansas, which invites contributions from the public, JFK's will remain preserved as it is. "We ask people not to put any twine on the ball," said Terri, "because then it wouldn't be his ball any more."

Also see: JFK's Ball of Twine: 1979-2022 | Towns With Balls

JFK's World Famous Twine Ball

Address:
9360 County Rd S, Highland Township, WI
Directions:
This is in Highland Township in northern Wisconsin, not the town of Highland in southern Wisconsin. From US-2 in Brule turn south (no stoplight) onto WI-27. Follow WI-27 south 10 miles. Turn right, west (no stoplight) onto County Rd S. Follow County Rd S for four miles. The twine ball will be on the right. Pull into the transfer station, just before Highland Town Hall.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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