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The Twine of a Town

By Lori Thielen

Current Ball of Twine Stats: 17,797 pounds, 40 foot circumference
Over 7,079,690 feet of sisal twine - that's 1,340.85 Miles

It starts with the twine; but there's so much more.

This north central Kansas town of 500 has something that ties its community together — literally.

Cawker City, home of the world’s largest ball of sisal twine, has drawn thousands of people over the years to view this unique tourist attraction. The ball of twine has also been mentioned in Hollywood movies, national advertising, television shows, and even radio shows.

"We’ve laughed about this, but the ball of twine is what "ties" the community together," Linda Clover, current ball of twine caretaker, says. "There’s so much seriousness in life, I figure we should enjoy it."

Linda Clover’s son and family in front of the famous
Linda Clover’s son and family in front of the famous Ball of Twine.

The ball of twine dates back to 1953 when Frank Stoeber started rolling spare twine into a ball on his farm. By 1957 it weighed 5,000 pounds, stood 8 feet high and had 1,175,180 feet of twine on it. Stoeber gave the ball to Cawker City in 1961, well before his death in 1974. The Cawker City Community Club is the official owner/caretaker of the ball of twine. As of January 2005, the ball weighed 17,797 pounds and had 7,079,690 feet of twine.

Clover says the ball of twine is fitting given the amount of farming in the area. "There are still farmers around who say they remember taking Frank extra twine in their younger years," Clover says.

The community gets many requests about the ball of twine, and Linda answers many of those. "I care about the community and that’s why I do so much with the tourism. I love it," Clover says. "I get many phone calls and e-mail requests from all over for information. To some of those people I have to first explain what twine is."

The ball of twine has been around Cawker City long enough that it sometimes gets taken for granted there, but Clover says its uniqueness is not overlooked by visitors.

"Some people around here probably think it’s crazy, but it’s so unique to people from other areas," Clover says. "We’re out in the open, away from interstate, and people can have hands-on contact with something."

Locals and visitors can add twine at any time by contacting Linda and her husband, Jack, ahead of time. An Annual Twine-A-Thon also takes place each year and is the official time to add more twine. A picnic and parade are on the third Saturday in August, with the twine winding being on Friday.

The ball of twine has also inspired creation of the Gallery Walk of Twine, which is a series of paintings based on famous masterpieces that all incorporate a ball of twine. These are exhibited in storefront windows. Local resident Cher Olson, who assists Linda Clover with community tourism duties, says what started as a solution to fill up the windows of vacant windows to spruce things up turned into a community source of pride. There are now more than 40 paintings scattered throughout the city, almost all of which Olson painted.

American Gothic with Twine
(Click here for a larger version)

"I’m an artist and it struck me that if we had "masterpieces" it would be neat so the visitors from all over could see we are worldly and not just some hicks," Olson says.

One painting is Leonardo da Vinci’s "Mona Lisa" holding a ball of twine. Another is Andy Warhol’s "Campbell’s Soup Can" as "Campbell’s Twine Soup."
"As an art educator it’s been ideal because it’s been so educational for the community to be exposed to different artists and styles," Olson, a former elementary art teacher, says.

Painting of one worker loading twine into a  large basket on the back of another worker
(Click here for a larger version)

To connect everything together, a gold line painted to resemble twine weaves up and down the sidewalk in a section of downtown.

"It’s really neat to see people walk around and follow the twine," Olson says. "The twine walk and pictures definitely get people to stop and look and see what we have in our community. We’re trying to make it an attractive place to be."

Olson has her own studio, Limestone Art Studio, which is located across the street from the ball of twine. She is also in the process of opening a Ball of Twine Inn that is located beside the studio. She has volunteered many hours painting the series for the Gallery Walk of Twine, but says it has been satisfying helping clean up the town.

"It’s interesting because it was kind of a chain reaction as people saw us cleaning and adding these paintings and doing things, others would get out and wash windows and maybe even paint their building," Olson says. "Everyone’s helped with it in some way and that is rewarding."

Community members agree the ball of twine is a source of pride for Cawker City.

"Our town has community pride and the ball of twine is about 90 percent of that," Joan Wagner, local resident, says. "No matter where you go, people may not always have heard of Cawker City but they have heard about the ball of twine.

 

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Last Updated July 20, 2006
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