Vacationer, the American road beckons. Higher speed limits, affordable gas and a weak dollar overseas mean that this summer is the time to get up and go. And this year when you go, make sure to visit some of "The World's Largests" that dot our countryside. Scattered across the United States are giant cows, huge shoes, mammoth chairs and dozens of other such outlandish creations.
World's Largests are usually the result of small-town civic boosterism, so no matter what your destination there's bound to be a place along the way with something large to show you. Roadside whoppers are usually erected and advertised as tourist attractions; less frequently, they're the offerings of proud companies with a product to promote, or eccentric individuals with crazed visions.
Herewith, a sampler of World's Largests. The list is by no means complete, and sometimes competing claims have to be sorted out. But that's all part of the fun.
APPLE: Habersham County, Ga., is known as "Home of the Big Red Apple." And with good reason. Standing next to the railroad depot is a well-tended monument shaped like a (big red) apple, a reminder that the county's prosperity is tied to the health of the apple industry. The monument is eight feet tall and weighs 5,200 pounds.
BUG: It seems improbable that anyone would go to the trouble of building the world's largest bug. To know that at least three such sculptures vie for the title is enough to leave you, well, bug-eyed. The first claimant is Enterprise, Ala., which has the Boll Weevil Monument in the center of town. Billed as the "only monument to an insect pest," it features a statue of a woman dressed like Lady Liberty, surrounded by a fountain. Above her head she holds a large boll weevil. The statue is impressive, but since the actual bug part of it is no longer than a few feet, it fails as the world's largest.
Entrant No. 2 is an authentic-looking, 35-foot-long replica of the Hercules Beetle, which stands at the entrance to the May Natural History Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo.
If you've ever driven through Providence, R.I., and had to ask for directions, chances are you've been told of the giant blue termite that looms over I-95, south of the city. On top of the New England Pest Control Building, this fellow has a 32-foot body, 42-foot wings and (a total length of 58 feet). So striking is the insect, especially lit up at night, that locals can sensibly tell lost motorists things like, "Go to the second stoplight after the bug," or "If you see the bug, you've gone to far."
CHAIR: Four towns battle for this title. The competition started back in 1905 when Gardner, Mass., erected a 12-foot mission chair to celebrate the town's status as a furniture center. By 1922, Thomasville, N.C., which prides itself on being the "Furniture and Hosiery Capital of the World," countered with its own chair, 13 feet, 6 inches tall. Undaunted, Gardner ("Chair City of the World") rebuilt its chair to a height of 15 feet.
Thomasville replied in 1948 with an 18-foot, steel-and-concrete Duncan Phyfe model on a 12-foot pedestal. The town fathers even got neighboring city High Point to build the world's largest bureau, to help solidify their status.
Bennington, Vt., home of the world's second-tallest battle monument (after the San Jacinto Monument in Texas), decided to enter the fray, putting up a 19-foot-1-inch ladderback chair. An understandably upset Gardner built an even larger chair, a 20-foot-7-inch Heywood-Wakefield, for a Bicentennial project. It stood as the world's largest for a year.
The current title holder, built in 1978 in Wingdale, N.Y., is located across the street from the Hunt Country Furniture Co. A Fireside model, it measures 25 feet tall and 14 feet wide. But who knows how long that record will endure? Chair makers, unlike their customers, are never content to sit still.
COW: The city stationery of New Salem, N.D., carries "Home of the World's Largest Holstein Cow" on every page. The claim may be an understatement, for the monster moo-er is plainly the largest cow, Holstein or otherwise. Yet to be named, the fiberglass beast is 38 feet high, 50 feet long and weighs six tons. Motorists on I-94 can see it for miles, and so inspiring is the sight that a song has been written about it, called (what else?) "Ballad of the Giant Holstein Cow."
Audubon, Iowa, stakes its claim as owner of the world's largest bull, "Albert." He guards the town from a park along Highway 71, and like many bestial superlatives, was built by the local Jaycees. Made of concrete and steel, Albert is 30 feet tall, 15 feet across the horns and weighs 45 tons, but his baby-blue eyes and long lashes impart a gentleness not expected in an animal so huge.
DINOSAUR: A trip to see the world's largest dinosaur will take you to Palm Springs, Calif., for a look at Claude Bell's brontosaurus, "Dinny." Bell, now in his eighties, grew up near Margate, N.J., in the shadow of Lucy the Elephant (a six-story hotel built in the likeness of a pachyderm), and vowed that one day he would construct something equally grand. Dinny took a generation to complete, is about 90 feet long and has a museum and souvenir shop inside his belly.
A recently added tyrannosaurus is Dinny's only company as he stands sentinel next to the Wheel Inn on I-15. So far they have appeared in a Diet Coke commercial, several music videos, and Pee Wee Herman's first movie.
FISH: If forced to recommend just one giant thing to see, many experts would advise a visit to Hayward, Wis., and the world's largest fish. It was built as the centerpiece for the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and has the added distinction of being the world's largest fiberglass structure. But even if you don't number yourself among the millions of freshwater fishing enthusiasts, this half-block-long, five-story-high, open-mouthed-in-mid-leap fish will simply astound you. It has a door near the tail and tourists can walk inside all the way to the opened mouth, which doubles as an observation deck. Though there is little to see once up there, one can gain a greater appreciation for what Jonah must have gone through.
HAILSTONE: It's an immutable law of nature that hailstones melt after they hit the ground. So the Dalton Museum in Coffeyville, Kan., can't be blamed for displaying only a replica of the world's largest hailstone. But did it really look like a papier-mache blob the size of a cantaloupe? Probably. That's the kind of thing people just don't take the time to fake.
JACKRABBIT: Odessa, Tex., is another one of those towns with a Convention Bureau that just won't quit. The town claims to have the world's best replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theater, the only museum devoted to the office of the U.S. presidency and "Odessa Jack," the world's largest jackrabbit. Seven feet tall in a sitting position, Jack has become the city's symbol. And whatever caused his weird growth also seems to have affected "Paisano Pete," the world's largest roadrunner. Pete is the symbol of Fort Stockton, Tex., 100 miles southwest of Odessa.
PEANUT: The streets in downtown Durant, Okla., have signs directing visitors to an engraved granite monument proclaiming itself "The World's Largest Peanut." It's a biggie, all right -- 36 inches long by 14 inches around -- but don't be misled. The world's largest peanut is actually in Ashburn, Ga. Perched atop a 15-foot brick stack is a gold crown on which is written, "Georgia, First in Peanuts." Towering above this crown is the true Goliath of Gooberdom, a peanut standing 10 feet tall.
COFFEE POT: The world's largest coffee pot is located above Stanton, Iowa. "The Swedish Capital of Iowa" built the pot, which doubles as the town's water tower, as a symbol of the townsfolk's hospitality. It reportedly holds more than 600,000 regular-sized cups of java. The fact that Folger's Coffee spokeswoman Mrs. Olsen was born there is just a happy coincidence, they say. And yes, the world's largest coffee cup is not too far off, located above the Sapp Brothers' Truck Stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
RHINESTONE: The world's largest rhinestone weighs 115,000 carats and is right where you'd expect to find it -- the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, Nev. Similarly, the world's largest champagne glass is safe and sound in the middle of The Lawrence Welk Museum in Escondido, Calif.
SHOE: As if kicked off by some sleepy giant, the world's two biggest shoes have landed on opposite sides of America. The Shoe House of Hellam, Pa., was built in 1947 by the flamboyant shoe wizard Colonel Haines. Reportedly, he gave one of his shoes to an architect, saying, "Build me a house that looks like this." Near Gettysburg, this two-story "shoecase" is worth finding, if only to see the stained-glass portraits of the colonel holding up his shoes.
Across the country in Bakersfield, Calif., is the other shoe, fittingly on the premises of Deschwanden's Shoe Repair. Located on the corner of Chester and 10th, this shoe is smaller than the one in Hellam, and only one story tall. But it is better tended and much more incongruous smack-dab in the center of Bakersfield's business district.
SIX-PACK: Out in front of The Heileman Brewing Co. in La Crosse, Wis., is a six-pack of Old Style that can hold 22,000 barrels of suds. This, the brewery's promotional literature points out, is enough to provide a person one six-pack a day for 3,351 years. Painting storage tanks to look like beer cans or bottles used to be a favorite trick of breweries, and vestiges of giant Falstaff and Schlitz cans can be seen in some cities. But the one in La Crosse, in addition to being a whole sixer, is kept in A-1 condition.
TIRE: The world's largest tire was made for the 1964 New York World's Fair, where it doubled as a Ferris Wheel. The huge Uniroyal has since been placed outside Dearborn, Mich., on I-94 leading into Detroit from the airport. An auto using this tire would be over 160 feet long and could use a regular-sized compact car as a hood ornament.
TWINE BALL: Many people seem to know that someone in America created the world's largest twine ball, but few know that two separate balls vied for the distinction. The creation of Francis Johnson of Darwin, Minn., rightfully holds the title. Johnson's twine ball is 12 feet in circumference and weights some 10 1/2 tons.
But this should take nothing away from the 1.6 million feet of twine amassed by Frank Stoeber. His ball is more than 11 feet in circumference, and to the naked eye there is little difference between the two. Stoeber died before he could overtake Johnson. Stoeber's home town of Cawker City, Kan., decided to preserve the effort and the second-largest ball of twine now sits along that town's main street, protected from the Kansas sun by a wooden gazebo.
Mike Wilkins, a San Francisco writer, is coauthor of "Roadside America."