03 September 2007

The Forevertron, or The Idea Of Progress Hits the Road

On Sunday morning I sat down to breakfast at the Java Cafe in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I ordered a spinach and feta omelette and a cup of coffee. I opened the local newspaper, the Baraboo News Republic. The main story on the front page was as follows: "Custard Connoisseur Captures Contest Title: Baraboo mom's creation debuts this weekend at Culver's." Seems that a local woman won a contest to create an original flavor of frozen custard to be featured at Culver's, which is a chain family restaurant. But I wasn't in Baraboo to try frozen custard.

I was there to see the Forevertron.

Last month I decided to take a road trip by myself over Labor Day weekend. I chose Wisconsin as the state of choice, rented a car, and basically just took off. The only destination I had in mind was something my neighbor had mentioned to me on Friday, some crazy sculpture in a town called Baraboo. Since it seemed logical to drive 250 miles to see something odd, I decided to go for it.

Armed with a tent, a sleeping bag, an iPod, a few changes of clothes, and a Google Maps printout of how to get to Baraboo, I took off.

I made it to Madison by dusk. When I was a teenager, I worked in a Boy Scout camp for a few summers, and if we were lucky, someone who was sixteen would drive us down to Madison for the weekend. I haven't been there since then, and it was fun to see the places I remembered. I also happened to show up during the Taste of Madison, so the streets were teeming with drunkards, college students, and drunk college students (is there any other kind?). I stayed the night in a quote unquote one star hotel I found on Hotwire (at least it was cheap), and set off first thing in the morning for the Forevertron.

I ate breakfast in town. I had realized that I had gotten directions to the town, but neglected to find out exactly where the damn thing was. I had hoped that there would be signs around town for it, but no. Nothing. I asked the girl at the counter when I paid for my breakfast if she knew what it was. She had never heard of it, but a local customer had.

"You mean Dr. Evermor's place? Sure, I know where that is."

It was located a few miles away from downtown. She gave me directions right to his door, and said it would be marked by a few metal sculptures next to an otherwise unmarked driveway. I drove by it twice before I figured out how to get in.

I parked my car on the grass and walked in. I turned a corner, and there it was.

The Forevertron.

It's the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Do yourself a favor and click on the picture, so you can see more detail.

Words fail me as I attempt to describe the thing. It's huge. Gigantic. It must have a million parts, all welded together by Dr. Evermor. It kind of looks like if Thunderdome had taken LSD with Nikola Tesla. Maybe that'll help.

Surrounding the main structure were a variety of other pieces. There is an entire orchestra of metal bugs that are part insect, part musical instrument. There must be two dozen of them, some almost two stories in height. There are little children bugs watching the performance, and a little jazz band of what I think are frogs playing along.

There are all manner of robots and strange gun-looking implements all scattered about, and a dragon made of bells. There is so much going on that it makes you wish that it was covered up, only revealing a small part at a time, because it can be overwhelming.

I have a lot of pictures, which you can see here on my Flickr page.

Seated in the middle of this, seated in a wheelchair, attempting to move scrap metal from buckets into a barrel with a magnet on a stick was Dr. Evermor himself.

He has long grey hair, was wearing khakis and leather gloves, and was friendly, if not entirely straightforward. I'm not sure if he's mad, or just a genius, or both. I asked him about how all of the individual pieces tied together. It was obvious to me that they must, because the intricacy of the parts and the meticulousness of their arrangement. What he told me made some sort of sense, but I'm not sure if he was telling me A story or HIS story. Big difference between the two.

From what he said, the Forevertron was the conduit for Dr. Evermor (either the man before me, or a representation of him in a story--like I said, he was unclear, and I chose not to get into specifics) to ascend into the cosmos (possibly with his wife, the Lady Eleanor... incidentally his ex-wife, an artist who designed many of the pieces there, also named Eleanor, was there as well, although she was keeping to herself).

The dragon, who can be played like a carillion, is tethered to the Forevertron for reasons I couldn't quite understand. There were robots scattered around as well--one an undersea robot, he took the time to point out to me. Everything is is the celebration of his ascension, the band playing, the two trucks, one labeled 'Epicurian,' where you get your steaks grilled, and the other, whose purpose I've forgotten.

It was a lot of information to take in, especially since I didn't understand half of it. But I think the man's a genius, and so I didn't ask any questions that could be construed as a critique of his sanity (like, but why? why here? Why so big? Do you know how insane this whole thing is?). I don't think he's crazy, just mad in the way of all great artists.

He also asked me some odd questions, like if I was a college graduate (he asked twice, and asked me to mention that when I signed the guestbook), and admonished me to stay sober (I told him I'd do what I could about that).

After spending an hour with his work and speaking to him, I helped him move all of the scrap metal on the ground into the barrel, bid him a fond adieu, and moved on.

Was it worth the 250 miles I had to drive to get to it?

Damn right it was.

During the course of this trip., I also went camping by myself, found a drive-in theater (yes, apparently they still exist), and put over 500 miles on my rented car (which fortunately came with unlimited miles). All in two and a half days.

To get home, I decided that I was going to drive east until I hit Lake Michigan, and then just head south, which I did. Maps are highly overrated. I was kind of startled when I found the lake, actually. I didn't realize it was coming up so quickly.

This is the shore:

Driving south from there, I passed all of the mansions on the north shore of Chicago, where the very wealthy live, and got a call from my ex-girlfriend, a painter that I had called when I saw the Forevertron, knowing that she'd get a kick out of it.

She asked my if I had seen the World's Largest Ball of Twine, 'cause it's in Wisconsin, too.

Damn it! I would have made that part of my trip had I known. Well, now I have a goal for the next trip.


Laaw-yuhr said...

I am, quite sincerely, so jealous. That sounds like an amazing trip. I could kick myself for not using my unemployment time to take a trip like this. The Forevertron looks amazing!

I'm driving to a wedding next weekend - do you know if there's anything amazing to see in Massachusetts?

Valerie said...

Nice travel blog...I had never heard of the Forevertron.

I like that you can vacation by yourself. It says a lot about a person. I'm one of those people that can dine by myself at a restaurant and not feel weird about it and/or go to the movies by myself.

Glad to hear you had such an enjoyable weekend.

McGone said...

That? Is awesome. I am half tempted to tell the girlfriend that we need to see this, although I'd probably have an easier time if I just started driving and didn't tell her where we were going.

And there is a drive-in closer to you, about 80 miles Southwest of Chicago in Earlville. I've been meaning to get there for awhile, but as they are in the "End of Summer Crapathon" of movies right now I may have to wait until next year.

katrocket said...

Wow! That's a great post of a really unique experience. Thanks for writing about it - I'd love to film the good Doctor for a day - he'd make for an interesting documentary subject (if he hasn't already)

I'm gonna check out your Flickrness now.

Grant Miller said...

Interesting story. I both love and loathe Wisconsin. Madison is okay. It was better when they allowed smoking in bars.

pistols at dawn said...

Fantastic. I hope you didn't discover the lake by driving into it.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Ugh! I went to Barraboo a few months ago and didn't hear a peep about this sculpture. I went to the Circus Museum, gawked at various parks in the Wisconsin Dells, camped at Devil's Lake (I think) and drove up to view the acid trip that is the "Castle on the Rock."

But no Forevertron. Looks like I'll be making a return trip.