Twine Ball.
Painted twine trail leads to Cawker City's giant ball.

World's Largest Ball of Twine

Field review by the editors.

Cawker City, Kansas

On Christmas Eve, 1953, Kansas farmer Frank Stoeber got tired of all the old twine littering the floor of his barn. The way to get rid of twine on a farm was to sweep it up, haul it outside, and burn it -- but that was a lot of work and Frank was 62 years old. So he began rolling it into a ball.

Twine ball moved from its barn.
1961: removing the ball from Frank Stoeber's barn.

Three years later, the ball was seven feet high and weighed two tons.

At first, not even the Stoeber family knew about the ball in the barn. But Frank's neighbors did. Facing the same disposal problem as Frank, they brought their twine to him and he added it to his ball. Frank carefully recorded the ball's size, weighed it regularly, and kept a notebook naming every person who gave him twine. Linda Clover, current caretaker of the ball, has a copy of the notebook. When asked, she can tell the children and grandchildren of Cawker City's farmers if some of their family twine is buried deep inside Frank's ball.

"Even though they gave him their twine," said Linda, "nobody ever got to add twine, just him. He was working to keep it such a good ball. He liked to do it just right."

Cawker City welcome sign.
Cawker City welcome sign.

Proud of his accomplishment -- and running out of room in his barn -- Frank hauled the ball into town to be part of the 1961 Cawker City Centennial Parade. It was such a popular attraction that a year later it was placed on a concrete slab next to U.S. Highway 24. It's been there ever since, under a series of ever-larger and sturdier outdoor shelters. Linda, who's lived in Cawker City since the mid-1960s, remembers Frank as an old man coming into town, adding twine to his ball. "He did it until he couldn't."

Twine Ball spooler.
Twine ball caretaker Linda Clover with her twine spooler.

Guinness World Records certified Frank's ball as the World's Largest in 1973. He died a year later, proud of his accomplishment. But in 1978, Guinness knocked Frank's ball down to second place. It had been surpassed by a bigger ball of twine in Minnesota.

According to Linda, Cawker City at first didn't feel compelled to defend Frank's legacy. But the idea of the twine ball just sitting there didn't seem right, either. So in 1982 the town began to hold an annual Twine Ball Days festival, where everyone could come and add to Frank's ball. Gradually, an idea began to take hold that people should be able to add twine year-round. Linda couldn't recall exactly when public participation in the twine ball became an everyday event -- but that's the way it is now.

Years of public additions have left their mark. Based on Linda's figures, Cawker City's ball now weighs over 13 tons and contains nearly 1,600 miles of twine. If you rolled it westward, you'd still be unrolling twine when you reached San Francisco.

Twine Ball history.
Twine Ball history.

Visitors who arrive in Cawker City see a meandering path of twisty twine painted on the main street sidewalk. It leads past several downtown storefronts, with windows showcasing famous painted artworks enhanced with twine balls, including The Scream, American Gothic, and Van Gogh's Starry Night. The sidewalk trail ends at the big ball, pungent with the odor of 60-year-old twine. When the sun hits the ball just right at sunrise and sunset, it resembles a golden globe of Kansas shredded wheat.

If you want to add twine, it's best to call or email at least a day ahead (clover @ nckcn.com) so that Linda can arrange to either be at the ball or to have twine -- pre-measured and weighed -- left in a convenient spot. A visit to the city office or library can often prompt a phone call to Linda, or directions to one of her twine stashes. Or, you can just show up. If Linda sees you, she'll drive over, breaking out the twine spools and the wrapping apparatus that she keeps in her car trunk.

To maintain the integrity of Frank's ball, only sisal twine can be added. One of Linda's chores is to remove the string, yarn, and plastic twine that visitors sometimes wind onto it, usually out of ignorance of the Twine Ball Rules.

Participation spooling.
Few visitors can resist Linda's offer to wind twine on the Cawker City ball.

The second rule is: don't climb on the twine. Linda said that at one time the ball had a sign warning people against such behavior, but it only put the idea in their heads and caused more climbing. Removing the sign and installing CCTV cameras lessened the problem.

Frank Stoeber on the classic post card.
Frank Stoeber circa 1965: a classic postcard image.

Rule number three is for visitors to write their name and hometown in the twine ball mailbox guest book.

Frank devised techniques to ensure roundness in his twine ball, lifting the monster on chains with a forklift to wrap it on all sides. Cawker City's ball of today is in no position to be lifted, so its lower extremities sag at the bottom. "It's so heavy that even if we rolled it over it would still droop," said Linda, who does her best to maintain shape integrity when visitors add twine. "I weave it in and out and try to pull it up a little bit," she said. "It doesn't do much good, but I do what I can."

Cawker City is over 50 miles from the nearest interstate exit, but that doesn't stop twine-happy travelers. "There's seldom a day that I'm not out here with someone, and if I'm out here with someone, two or three other cars will stop," said Linda. "I was here after eight o'clock last night with people from Las Vegas, Washington, DC, and Lanexa, Kansas. We added 1,100 feet." At one time Cawker City wrapped the ball in lights in December, but it had to stop; the lights got in the way of people adding twine.

A historical placard at the shelter, "Frank Stoeber's Twine Tale," is careful to chronicle the ball's history and to give Frank credit. But what began as a very personal and solitary thing is now a very public and social thing. Countless thousands of anonymous people have added twine to Frank's ball. We'll never know if he would be flattered or cranky about it, but Linda has no doubt that the ball brings out the best in people. "It's hard to explain just how excited some folks are when they get here," she said. "Sometimes they want to hug me, they're so happy. To drive two or three hours out of your way to see a ball of twine -- you really have to enjoy life."

Also see: Towns with Balls

World's Largest Ball of Twine

Address:
Wisconsin St., Cawker City, KS
Directions:
On the south side of Wisconsin St./Hwy 24, a half-block west of Lake Drive.
Hours:
Lit at night. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
785-781-4470
RA Rates:
The Best
Save to My Sights

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