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Everybody in the car...or perhaps you don't want to see the second largest ball of twine on Earth which is only four short hours away?
- Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Family Vacation1
There are several roadside exhibits in the US that are a community's mark of distinction. Usually they are the 'only', or the 'biggest', or the 'smallest', or the 'most', or the 'least' of something - any superlative will do. Jackson, Wyoming has the largest ball of barbed wire. Gays, Illinois claims to have the only two-storey outhouse. Anniston, Alabama has the world's largest chair.
Three towns claim to have the world's largest ball of twine.
The second-largest ball of twine in the world lives in Cawker City, Kansas - a town of only 5212 population. The word 'lives' is used because it is still growing after having been around for more than 50 years! As of 2003, the ball is made of 1,325 miles of Sisal twine, weighs 17,554 pounds and has a circumference of 40 feet.
The Largest Ball of Twine in the World used to reside in Darwin, Minnesota3, created by Francis Johnson. It is the oldest and most famous of the twine balls. It was started in 1950 and was worked on for 39 years until Johnson died in 1989. Frank Stoeber (a Cawker City resident) saw this ball of twine as a personal challenge and started his ball of twine. He had almost beaten the Darwin ball - his attempt was only one foot smaller when he died in 1974. The community of Cawker City helped to increase it to its current size of 40 feet.
In 1992, Texas millionaire JC Payne declared a 41.5 foot circumference plastic twine ball in Mountain Springs, Texas to be the biggest. In 1985 he had heard of the Cawker City ball and the Darwin ball and wanted the record for himself, so he began winding his up. Both Cawker City and Darwin condemn this as not being a 'quality' ball of string. They consider it to be 'no lifelong labour of love...' as Stoeber and Johnson's balls are. Darwin also notes both the Cawker City ball and the Texas ball as being group efforts and consider their ball to be superior, being the largest ball made by an individual effort.
If you want to visit the Second Largest Ball of Twine - and why wouldn't you? - it is in a gazebo which you can see through a plexiglass window. If you want to sniff the old twine - again, why wouldn't you? - there are even vents to smell through. It has a sign next to it, claiming the ball of twine is the largest in the world, even though it is only the second-largest. It is the largest ball of sisal twine though.
The ball is currently held in the care of the Cawker City Community Club along Wisconson Street in the downtown area of the city. The community regularly contributes to its growth on the third Saturday in August at a picnic and parade called the 'Twine-athon'. If you're considering visiting Cawker City or even just passing through, the third Saturday of August would be a good time to visit. Darwin, Minnesota also hosts a twine festival, one week before Cawker City's.