Dave Oswald isn’t a household name but he should be for aficionados of larger-than-life roadside sculptures. Mr. Oswald is the owner and proprietor of DWO Fiberglass of Sparta, Wisconsin (formerly of F.A.S.T Korp of the same town). He has been constructing these masterpieces along highways and byways since 1962, bringing joy to viewers across the Midwest and beyond.
I love roadside attractions. They represent the hopes, dreams and pride of communities seeking to differentiate themselves from an increasingly homogeneous world. They deliver uniqueness of size, scale, color and form to an otherwise bland landscape.
These small rural towns may not have all the amenities and nightlife of a place like Manhattan, but Manhattan will never be able to lay claim to the World’s Largest Fiberglass Turkey, or more properly, to the world-class poultry industry the sculpture represents. Indeed. Visitors come from far-and-wide to view these attractions, and maybe leave behind a little extra cash at a local restaurant or filling station. I know, I’d stop in a heartbeat for something like this. The rest of my family, well, not so much. One must have a discerning palate to appreciate artwork of this grandeur.
Dave Oswald, then, must be considered a virtuoso of giant lifelike outdoor fiberglass as he churns-out masterpiece after masterpiece from his factory in rural Wisconsin. I’ve tracked down several sculptures from his portfolio that are available for viewing in Google Street View.
Salem Sue, The World’s Largest Holstein Cow.
The Lions Club of New Salem, North Dakota commissioned Salem Sue in 1974. She cuts an impressive figure atop School Hill high above town and along aproaching Interstate 94. She has otherworldly dimensions too: 38 feet tall, 50 feet long and 12,000 pounds! Now, that’s one large Holstein. World-class large.
The Big Musky
A giant fish delivers a crown jewel to the "Shrine to Anglers" at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin. A musky, or more properly a Muskellunge, is a challenging trophy fish throughout the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. It’s the perfect gigantic fish to adorn a museum dedicated to sports fishermen.
The Big Musky is over-sized in every respect along its 145 foot length. It’s so large that 20 people can fit within its open jaws, an enticing possibility since the hollow frame contains a stairwell up to a viewing platform in his mouth. Visitors can envision themselves as bait. This is a roadside attraction of the highest order. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Wahpper, the World’s Largest Catfish
The Wahpper can be found in Wahpeton, North Dakota and is designed to attract anglers to some of the best catfishing waters of the Upper Midwest. Not only is the sculpture impressive in scale but it’s a pun. The name playfully combines the size of the fish (a whopper) and the name of the town (Wahpeton). It’s reputed to be the world’s largest catfish. That’s not far fetched considering it’s dimensions: 40 feet long and 12 feet high. Plus the Internet says it’s "true" and who am I to doubt the veracity of such a trustworthy source? Actually, I’m just too lazy to verity it.
I’m doubly impressed that the Wahpper can be found along the Red River of the North, a well-known and highly regarded geo-anomaly. This river drains to Hudson Bay in Canada, and is one of the few places in the Lower 48 located above the "Northern Continental Divide." The river flows practically due north as it leaves the United States.
Sunny the Sunfish
Sunny the Sunfish is an ambassador of sorts to visitors of Onalaska, Wisconsin. He graces a roadside pull-out and pocket park as travelers approach town from the north. He’s a bit tough to see because of the angle of the shot and lighting. Look for the silhouette of his tail between the gaps of the trees. Here’s an actual photograph of Sunny on Flickr if you want to see what he really looks like.
I’ve included Sunny because he’s the one I regret the most — I traveled within a mile of him during my trip along the Great River Road last summer but I didn’t know he existed at the time. Another lost opportunity.
Much more of Mr. Oswald’s portfolio can be seen on the DWO website gallery.