There is a lot of pride displayed in the small town of Darwin, Minnesota. And at the center of it all sits the world’s largest twine ball that was rolled by a single person. It is thirteen feet in diameter, weighs 17,400 pounds, and has a circumference of forty feet. It sits in a display case, a plexi-glass gazebo, across from the town park. Plus it boasts its own museum in an old train depot that sits behind it.
I’d seen the twine ball before, but stopped in again this past summer with a few friends. We were admiring the ball when a friendly woman emerged from the museum and invited us in.
She told us about Francis A. Johnson, a man who had lived his whole life on a farm in Meeker County. He started rolling the ball of twine in his basement in 1950. He spent four hours every day for twenty-three days. At some point he moved the ball to his front lawn, and continued rolling. As it got larger, Johnson used railroad jacks to enable him to keep the ball round. Mr. Johnson wrapped for a total of twenty-nine years and built a circular open air shed to house it, protecting it from the elements.
When Johnson died in 1989, the city of Darwin moved the gigantic ball into town.
In the museum there are photos of Weird Al Yankovic who paid a visit to the town and wrote the song, “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota,” in 1989 as a tribute.
The woman also showed us the ingenious pliers Johnson made from single pieces of wood, without using any glue, or pins to separate the pieces. They open and close, but don’t function as true pliers. He carved the smallest one from a match. The largest is seven feet tall and unfolds to be about twenty feet long. And it has twenty-four more little pliers—the smallest is less than an inch—carved on its handles. Amazing!
If you are in touring through Central Minnesota, west on Highway 12 from the Twin Cities, it’d be worth your while to stop in Darwin and take a long look at the “World’s Largest Twine Ball Rolled by One Man.”
Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series