About the only fame this town can claim is having the world's largest ball of twine, and even that's subject to dispute.

But Linda Clover, caretaker of the sisal twine orb, says bragging rights don't really matter.

What does matter, she said, is that the ever-growing ball, now 40 feet around, is fun for folks in this prairie town of 800, and draws the tourists.

"Some feel it's dumb, but I say we could be known for where something bad happened. I would rather be known for a ball of twine which never hurt anybody," Clover said.

"It's the name recognition," says Wayne Musgrove, city clerk for 27 years. "I go to meetings around the state, and they all know about the ball of twine."

A sign near the shelter over the twine ball shows its dimensions. The bottom reads: "Thrift + patience = success."

"I love this sign," said Helen Young, of Bristol, Vt., who was on the road with her husband and daughters ages 7 and 4 and decided to drop by for a look.

And a sniff. Sisal, from the thick, fleshy leaves of the desert agave plant, has a distinctive musky odor.

"People smell it and recall the days when they were on the farm. It makes people think of times gone by. I think that's a lot of the fascination," Clover said.

She estimated the ball has about 6 million feet of twine, or 1,140 miles--the distance from Washington, D.C., to Des Moines, Iowa. It's 11 feet high and weighs around 17,000 pounds, although nobody has tried to weigh it lately.

But back to the whose-is-bigger question: Darwin, Minn., has a ball of twine that is also 40 feet around, and was made between 1950 and 1979 by Francis Johnson, and is called the biggest twine ball made by one person.

But Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum in Branson, Mo., has a ball 41.5 feet around, made between 1987 and 1991 by J.C. Payne of Valleyview, Tex., using nylon twine.

Those two are no longer growing, while Cawker City's is a work in progress that has outgrown three shelters built by the town. People are always adding twine, especially at the annual Twine-o-Thon held in conjunction with the town's August picnic. Clover said some 33,000 feet of twine was added during last year's Twine-o-Thon.

She or her husband, Jack, is at the site almost every day to tidy up, answer questions and supply visitors with twine.

"We let people be part of it, by letting them add twine," she said. "It's just fun. It's nothing serious."

The ball got its start in 1953 when farmer Frank Stoeber used sisal twine removed from hay bales. Pretty soon, neighbors started bringing their twine to him, and in four years the ball on his farm stood eight feet high.

In honor of Kansas's centennial celebration in 1961, Stoeber gave the ball to the town. He died in 1974.

The urge to save twine is understandable in the waste-not-want-not ethos of the farmer. But why did men like Stoeber feel compelled to go to such lengths?

"You either saved it or burned it, and he started saving it," is Clover's prosaic conclusion.

There are some who feel that maybe Stoeber started his ball of twine after hearing about the one in Minnesota.

Nowadays most farmers bale their hay with plastic twine, and the town has to buy sisal twine from the local co-op, using donations it receives. The question is, how much longer can this go on?

Clover said she and others are concerned that as the ball gets bigger and heavier, it will start to lose its roundness. Signs urge people not to climb on the ball, which pushes the strings down. At some point, say the pessimists, the ball will hit its limit.

Clover hopes that doesn't happen any time soon.

"We want to keep it going as long as we can," she said.