John Wesley's story by Julie V
|THE CONCRETE PTERODACTYL
By John Downs
In former times the small Ozark town of Eureka Hills, Missouri had just one law firm, the legal partnership of Bare & Swett. Both had been judges, both state senators for several terms. Both married their high-school sweethearts while in college and returned to Eureka Hills after law school. Myron Bare and Edgar Swett were at every local trial, often arguing against each other. Every local lawsuit, just a few each year crossed their desks. When there was a suit the plaintiff had first choice and the defendant the other, unless he wanted an out-of-town lawyer, rather pricey. Then the law changed: lawyers from the same firm couldn't argue opposite sides. So the firm split, with Bare on the left of the steep touristy main street, above a gift shop, and Swett on the right above a cafe.
And when the former Everett Farwell had a grievance and had nursed it long enough he brought it to Myron Bare's office to file suit. A neighbor recommended Bare to Farwell, said he'd done a good job in the neighbor's suit against the Federal Government over an eminent domain case. The same neighbor had used Swett in another case, suing a neighbor when his well ran dry. The neighbor had lost both cases but liked Bare better. Farwell climbed the narrow stairs slowly after parking his dusty pickup on the curb. He was around sixty with a weary look, troubles at his business had aged him. He opened the office door of the tiny firm, an elderly secretary greeted him.
Farwell had inherited some land along Elm Creek and bought more after WWII, putting together quite a spread, mostly pasture with some in hay. He started selling pieces in the '60s. A Georgia man bought an acre along the road for a bait store. It won't work, Farwell told him. The store struggled for a year then the state stocked a nearby river with trout--suddenly business was booming. The Georgian had his wife and daughters run the place while he drove a truck, another mistake according to the irascible farmer. Who in hell will by bait from a woman? But he was wrong--lots of folks drove a few extra miles to buy bait from an attractive woman and her daughter, it turns out. Then someone bought six acres for a blueberry farm. Farwell shook his head at the man's idea, although he paid a premium price. The farm struggled but the man persevered and soon had good business including Christmas trees in winter. Not long after Richard Owen bought ten acres across the creek for a trailer park, where do people get these ideas, Farwell wondered. But after investing a pile of money and effort the park was full of construction workers building a dam. Meanwhile, Farwell's acreage, the best land in the valley, remained pastures and hay fields. Being so consistently wrong about all these ventures annoyed the farmer. He became noticeably stoop-shouldered and muttered to himself while he drove his tractor.
Farwell was a proud man and not without ideas, even dreams. He waited a few years for his wife to go to a nursing home. Free to act, he started to read about dinosaurs, studying, planning a roadside dinosaur attraction. Meanwhile churches in Eureka Hills had raised money for a huge statue of Christ, the Christ of the Ozarks. Over 100 feet tall, of concrete and steel, the statue would be visible for miles. For structural reasons it was necessary to make Christ rather barrel-chested. Critics called it a "milk carton with arms". Farwell met with the architect as the huge metal skeleton was being welded. The architect, from San Francisco, came out to Farwell's place and looked over the site. A frugal man, Farwell had the cash to undertake a set of drawings so as Christ rose on his mountain top the architect, working with dino experts from the Field Museum, began to give shape to Farwell's Dinosaur Park.
With his trailer park in operation Richard Owen finally had more time to read. Two years of slaving had turned Farwell's old hillside pasture into a working business. His son Tom was ten and could help a bit in the garden and with their flock of ducks that swam in Elk Creek. Richard was always on the lookout for new ways of doing things and was a big reader of catalogs, government farming guides, anything related to running a piece of land, which was new to him. He dug a pond and stocked it with catfish, set up an irrigation pump on the creek, planted hybrid fruit and nut trees. He learned to graft and propagate trees and vines and was always ordering plants his neighbors had never heard of. He had a rocky slope that was hard to mow, the sort of place you might run a few cows, except he had no desire to deal with cattle or build fences. Seeing old man Farwell chasing escaped cattle and mending fence, a man twenty years older, made him shake his head. Poor old guy, he thought. He ought to sell out and retire.
An alternative to cows was a new aggressive ground cover being promoted by the Government Soil Conservation people. It was called the Kudzu, brand new, from Japan. It was attractive, with large fuzzy leaves, drought resistant, resistant to everything in fact. And it grew fast. Kudzu shot up like bamboo in hot weather, growing 10-12 inches a day. Young Tom wondered if you could actually see it grow, that would be interesting. Richard ordered the Kudzu and planted it on the hillside, as it happens just across the creek from the "Dino-Rama", as Richard called it.
Farwell had dozed a flat area along the creek for his life-size concrete dinos. Rebar, wire mesh and other construction materials were starting to arrive. Richard wondered if the old man was going senile, Dinosaurs? He couldn't even keep his cattle penned up. Most local people still believed the earth was made in seven days and the tourists came for the fishing, not to look at a T-Rex. Young Tom was excited about it and had visited Farwell's house to look at the scale models and dino books--it was cool. He asked his dad if they could build a dino park too. His dad said not likely.
The enormous structural steel Christ was raised upright by a crane a few months later and the lengthy process of applying masonry over its wire mesh skin began. Similar methods would be used on the dinos. Ministers from churches in the Missouri hills around Eureka watched the statue take shape with pride. They also heard about the Dino Park and several felt considerable alarm. Was this thing consistent with the story of Genesis? There were various views. Did dinos exist in the Garden of Eden? And how did the large ones survive the flood? Maybe they didn't exist at all. Someone should talk to Farwell about it but no one volunteered; he was cranky and this was his vision. He was unlikely to cooperate.
The Reverend Louis Spivey was a neighbor of Farwell's and the unanimous choice of the church men for the distasteful task of going to see him. Farwell had moved into a trailer on the job site and welders putting together rebar frames were complaining to the architect about the meddlesome owner. Re. Spivey, around thirty with a new baby, was a farmer himself. He pulled up to the trailer, dreading the encounter. Rumor said Farwell was going without sleep, walking around the wire frames at all hours, talking to himself and gesturing with his arms as though commanding them to get up and walk.
Spivey was knocking on the trailer door when Farwell came around the corner. He'd built a sort of thatched roof ramada, like a carport, where he could sit in a lawn chair and watch the construction.
"Hello Louis," Farwell said cordially. The men shook hands.
"Hello Mr. Farwell. Quite a project you have here," said the younger man, wiping his brow and looking around. It was a warm June day and the workers had quit for the day.
"Come on over to the viewing stand. I sit here most of the day and oversee things," said Farwell, leading him to the ramada. They sat down."Saw the design for this in a book on safaris. They call this a viewing stand, where you sit and watch big game. Drink?” Farwell gestured to a cooler.
"Sure, that would be fine," said Spivey. His host dug him out a cold Coke.
"Gonna have my sign up on the road soon, being painted by an artist in St. Louis and hauled here on a truck. Folks are already stopping by to ask when it opens," said Farwell, settling into the only topic he talked about these days. Spivey paused a moment not sure where to begin." So how can I help you today, Reverend?” asked Farwell cheerfully.
Spivey decided to just plunge ahead. "Well, Mr. Farwell, several of us had a meeting the other night at Redding Church and one of the topics we discussed was your park. I guess the best way to say it is some folks in the religious community are concerned it might not be consistent with the Bible. Now it's your land and your money, we would never try to interfere with what you're doing, it's your business. We were wondering if a few minor changes to the layout of it might ease concerns among church-going people, and might even bring you in more business. You know, church groups and so on," Spivey said, the older man sipping his coke and frowning.
"Anything specific you have in mind?” Farwell asked.
"There were several things suggested. One issue on people's minds is how the dinosaurs survived the flood. The ones you're building here are clearly too large to fit in the Ark. One suggestion is make the animals smaller and build a full size Ark, just like in Genesis, and maybe have them lined up with Noah herding them in. A full size Ark would draw quite a crowd and you have all the materials and expertise to undertake it already together." Spivey paused, Farwell's frown deepened to a scowl.
"I'm afraid it's too late for that, Reverend. Experts at the Field Museum in Chicago designed these to be life size. I don't think anyone would come see a bunch of miniatures. Fossils found out in Montana and Wyoming prove they had leg bones taller that a man, I've seen the pictures. As you can see I've made quite a study of it. Any other ideas?” asked Farwell.
Spivey nodded, "Of course Mr. Farwell, you're the expert. Another suggestion that would be easier concerns Adam and Eve. Of course we believe humans and dinosaurs lived together in ancient times. But we see no evidence of this in your park. What about having statues of Adam and Eve in the park, perhaps feeding or caring for the dinosaurs? That wouldn't be difficult."
Farwell agreed to look into it and Spivey said his church group could obtain the statues and help with installing them. The men shook hands and Spivey left. As the sun set and the crickets tuned up for evening song, Farwell walked along Elm Creek past the iron skeletons. His father had denied him an education and after the army he was needed on the farm. But he'd made a study of paleontology; even the PhD's at the Field Museum complimented him. That was something for a man who never set foot on a campus either as a student or a father. Damn these meddling Bible-beaters, he thought. Better try to accommodate them, though, and get some church picnic business. He would call the architect tomorrow.
Meanwhile the Kudzu vine grew down the north slope of Richard's place to the bank of Elm Creek. It was just as advertised, smothering weeds, small trees, covering the flint rocks with lush olive green. It probed for a way across the creek, sending runners several feet into the water, no luck. It then tried the telephone line, climbing the pole in a few days and launching itself along the wire, determined to make it. Richard came by and cleaned the pole with a machete, the effort withered. It tried the small concrete bridge but Richard sprayed it and held it back, afraid it would annoy Farwell if it made it across. Good thing the vine is dormant in winter, he thought.
Of course, nature has designed living things to spread. The Kudzu began climbing and smothering trees along the creek bank and one day a storm blew one over, spanning the creek. Kudzu now began to spread among the cane and Sycamore trees on Farwell's side, attracted by the clear bright sunshine of the meadow.
Farewell caught up with the architect in Chicago. The architect had an effeminate manner and might be a pansy, Farwell thought. He mentioned the Adam and Eve idea to him. The architect breathed a deep sigh and tried to suppress a chuckle. "That sounds fine to me Mr. Farwell, but it's beyond the scope of our project. My job is to deliver dinosaurs on time and on budget. If you want to add Adam and Eve or Hansel and Gretel, or even Bonnie and Clyde to a dinosaur exhibit it's up to you. You might even have Fred and Wilma Flintstone but they're copyrighted I believe. How's the welding going?” he asked.
Farwell was put out by this bantering tone. "Fine," he said, "welding is going fine." "By the way Mr. Farwell you're a few weeks behind on invoices. Let me know if you have any other ideas," he said with barely disguised sarcasm. He hung up.
Farwell paid the invoices and the pace of welding picked up. A long-necked brontosaurus was near completion, as was a tall, thoughtful duckbill. The furious T-Rex was a torso and legs. Triceratops, size of a large sedan, was complete except for the horned head. Small dinos were also being built off site and started to appear. The pedestal to hold the graceful, flying Pterodactyl was finished and the wire frame animal was expected soon. The dramatic, 2-sided sign arrived on a truck and was installed on the road; cars began slowing down to look. Farwell was a constant presence, living in the trailer, no longer even going home.
Richard was impressed with all the activity on Farwell’s place and continued his gardening and tree planting. He received several Ginkgo Biloba trees over the winter. They were an ancient species, predating even the dinosaurs, and Richard brought two grafted trees to Farwell one spring day as a neighborly gift. A crew was spraying concrete mix onto the wire mesh skin of the finished T-Rex, it was a startling white. Others waited their turn, followed by a smoothing coat of colored mortar, touched up by an artist on scaffolding to get the proper skin texture. Then a coat of epoxy paint using colors chosen by the experts, Farwell gave Richard a tour of the site. Richard noticed with some alarm Kudzu vine covering a picnic table and climbing a light pole. Farwell noticed it too, "Looks like that vine of yours escaped," Farwell said, frowning. "Damn thing sure grows. I been spraying it with herbicide, only seems to encourage it."
Richard was contrite. "I'm sorry, Everett. I had no idea it would get across the creek. Does add a sort of jungle look to the place. Didn't dinosaurs live in jungles?” he asked. The concrete spraying had stopped and Farwell went over to see what the problem was. Old guy's really obsessed, Richard thought. He shrugged and went home.
Farwell agreed to set aside part of the picnic area for a "Garden of Eden Diorama", as Rev. Spivey's people called it. Volunteer labor leveled the spot and planted fruit trees, along with the Ginkgos. Bamboo was put in as a sort of screen boundary and a fountain was plumbed in. They had no budget for masonry or metal human figures, however, someone found some heavy duty mannequins for outdoor use and money was raised. The figures arrived naked and there was debate on how to dress them--was this before or after the fall of man, when they knew their nakedness? For the children's sake they decided on the latter and women sewed some large fabric banana leaves for the figures and Eve got a second hand wig, sort of a pageboy cut. They looked a bit like Tarzan and Jane in their leaf costumes and everyone seemed pleased. They asked Farwell if Eve could be posed feeding a dino and he agreed, moving a velociraptor to the garden. Eve was posed rather fetchingly offering a piece of plastic fruit to the animal, still awaiting its final coat of paint. It was a private joke of Farwell’s; feeding fruit to a predator that would tear the original humans to shreds if it were alive. The church people posed for pictures with the raptor and asked Farwell when he would open.
The Pterodactyl, Farwell's special pet, arrived the next week on a flatbed truck with a crane. It had a 24 foot wingspan with steel mesh wings, weighing around half a ton. In the calm of the evening the crane lifted the awkward, delicate creature onto its 16 foot pedestal and it was bolted in place. Scaffolding was built and the artist went to work, finishing the long bird-like body and bat-shaped wings. Young Tom rode his bike over to watch--what a show. Better than watching "The Munsters". Farwell oversaw every detail of course, the artist enduring his constant stream of suggestions. Then the painter went to work. The architect said he was the world's only outdoor concrete pterodactyl--it was quite a day.
July came and Farwell's Dinosaur Park opened, the first paying customers plus lots of folks who slowed down on the road for a good look, declining to pay. Farwell gave brief guided tours in his crusty grandfather style, answering questions from his huge store of dino lore. The Garden of Eden was a favorite picnic spot and seemed the main attraction for some families. Local teenagers also enjoyed the Garden of Eden. Farwell sometimes found the first couple missing. At times they were astride the long neck of the brontosaurus, rodeo-style and the old gentleman had to get one of the young workers to bring them down. Once vandals climbed scaffolding around the T-Rex and placed Eve perilously in the creature's jaws, Adam looking on in alarm. Other times they were found in various romantic embraces, aware perhaps of the huge responsibility of creating the entire human race. They turned up missing so often Farwell continued to live in the trailer.
It was a hot summer and the “damned vine” continued its spread. Dinoland had a fine southern exposure and rich soil from years of running cattle. The kudzu found an old manure pile on the place and it was like steroids for the plant. Abundant rain did the rest, soon kudzu was everywhere. It invaded the Garden of Eden, covering picnic tables and grills, climbing the bamboo, even winding around the human figures. It attacked all the dinos, climbing the tall ones and smothering low ones like the turtle-shaped ankylosaurus. The duckbill soon had vine hanging from his bill, as though it had just eaten something tasty. Farwell, increasingly irate at the tricks of the teenagers and the vexatious vine, fought back hard.
There were a series of mishaps. He pulled so hard on kudzu wrapped around the velociraptor he pulled the beast over on him, trapping him like an item of pray. His cries for help alerted visitors who freed him from his voracious creation. He heard noises inside the triceratops, raccoons had moved inside. Unable to flush them out with a hose, he shoved a shotgun up the arse of the concrete beast and blasted away. No more noise but their bodies stank for weeks. Honey bees moved into the hollows of a prehistoric bear, then teenagers smoke bombed them, provoking a bee attack on picnickers in the Garden. Other teens were arrested with Adam and Even in the back seat at the drive-in, enjoying “The Graduate”.
His anger at the vine peaked when it attacked his large, expensive, double-sided sign. One hot afternoon he drove up to the sign and started pulling the vine out from the hollow space. Unfortunately hornets had moved into the space and were disturbed, buzzing the old farmer. He had sense enough to run and jump in his truck, escaping their attack. Deciding to come back armed with spray he put the truck in gear but in his haste backed into the sign, flattening it and catching the bumper on the broken post. Hornets swarmed the truck furiously, the whole colony was mobilized and the truck would not move, he was stuck. This was a basic no-frills farm truck, no 4-WD, no air-conditioning, no CB radio so he was in a fix with no way to call for help. It started to get hot. He ground his teeth in fury as hornets dive bombed the windows. It was hours before he summoned the courage to open the door and run.
The kudzu had dreams of its own, of a sort. It saw the Pterodactyl as a kind of Mt. Everest and was determined to climb it because it was there. The chance came when Farwell hurt his back pulling apart two small dinos that vandals had put together in a sexual act up on the highway. He was in bed several weeks and the vine took full advantage, climbing the pedestal and winding through the wire mesh wings. Once he was on his feet he sprayed and tugged on the vine which by now was hanging off the wing tips. It seemed so futile; the stuff simply could not be killed. Several dinos became so covered with vine they appeared to be dinosaur topiaries and people started stopping to see if they were for sale. Something had to be done.
Myron Bare was about Farwell’s age, pudgy from decades of office work, as pasty white as Farwell was tanned. He greeted the farmer and the secretary brought coffee. Bare took a few notes while Farwell told the story of the vine from hell and showed him pictures. The most dramatic was the poor, patient duckbill, whose ancestors ate vine for millions of years, now almost completely covered, only his bill visible. It was a cruel fate. Bare listened to the tale and asked a few questions.
“What do you think, is there a case?” asked Farwell in conclusion.
Bare adjusted his glasses. “It’s a highly unusual claim,” he began. “You’re saying this foreign vine crossed the creek and attacked your dinosaurs, and your business was damaged. But the vine was there when you opened so how do you know? Maybe some folks like the vine.” Bare looked through the pictures again.
“I don’t see how you can suggest there’s no claim. Look at the duckbill there,” said Farwell.
“Not being a reptile expert, you’ll have to show me Mr. Duckbill,” said the lawyer, handing the pictures to him. Farwell showed him.
“Hmm, he’s in need of a shave, I’ll admit. I know what Judge Roberts will say, Everett, he’ll kick the case back and say have a conference with your neighbor and try to work it out. Richard is a nice guy. Let me make a few calls and try to get an expert to help us with your vine problem, then you and Richard can meet here and come to some agreement.” Farwell reluctantly agreed and left.
Everybody’s bad luck eventually turns and our dino entrepreneur was about to get a break. Myron called the state Ag. Commissioner, who called a Vietnam buddy who sprayed defoliants on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, who gave him the number of the army chemical warfare lab on a remote mesa in Utah. They had a powerful new agent and could provide a sample. Richard and Farwell met at Myron’s office a few weeks later and Richard agreed to help spray and clean the dinos.
The lab supplied them a half-ounce of the herbicide which came in a brown bottle like ear drops. One calm September morning the neighbors met near the Garden of Eden and put a single drop in a 55 gallon drum of water and stirred with a piece of lumber. They tried it on the small dinos first and waited. The result was dramatic. Farwell hired a “cherry picker” truck and they went to work and in three days the place was transformed. The duckbill was no longer held captive by his food, the Pterodactyl soared, the T-Rex roared and peace between the neighbors was restored.
The kudzu retreated to the woods and considered its options, twining among the trees and cane breaks where Farwell and his sprayer could not follow. Its human enemy was old and tired but the vine never aged, and was fresh and new each summer. It would be back.