Jonathan Gallardo Gillette News Record Via Wyoming News Exchange
GILLETTE — It was a blustery Thursday afternoon as a forklift carried a 1925 Fordson Model F tractor north on Gurley Avenue. City workers assisted with traffic control as the forklift maneuvered onto the sidewalk and gently unloaded the 3,000-pound tractor onto a concrete slab, across from the Sinclair gas station and just past the overpass of Gurley.
“It will fit perfectly there,” said Nello Williams, snapping photos with his phone. “It’s not Big Red the horse, it’s Big Red the tractor.”
“It’s art for our end of town,” he said.
The tractor was the result of efforts by Williams, Greg Dougherty and Roger Gustafson to obtain art on Gurley Avenue, north of the overpass. And like the horse sculpture it replaces, it pays homage to Campbell County’s agricultural roots.
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In 2019, “Clippity Clop,” a metal sculpture by artist Dixie Jewett, debuted at Gillette as part of the city’s Avenues of Art. At 11 feet high, 10 feet wide, and 5,000 pounds, it was so big the city had to install a new concrete slab for it.
Williams affectionately called him Big Red, which was the nickname of the famous racehorse secretariat.
It was removed, much to the disappointment of Williams, who pointed out that there were far fewer carvings on the north side of town than on the south side.
“We also want to be pretty,” Williams said.
The horse sculpture is now in Mount Pisgah Cemetery. When pulled from the platform on Gurley Avenue, it left a horse-sized hole in the heart of Williams and the north side of Gillette.
“That poor horse, that horse, he counted the cars every time they passed, he watched Legion baseball, he watched the Kwik Shop, made sure everyone was safe,” Williams said the last year. “But we don’t have the horse now.”
Now Big Red watches over those interred in the cemetery, Williams said, but he wasn’t going to leave North Gillette without a piece of art.
Gustafson had a replica of a longhorn ox in front of his store, which is right next to “Cloppity Clop.” Williams thought it would be a perfect replacement, but Gustafson didn’t want to part with it.
A crate with a pair of mannequin legs was placed on this cushion. It was there for two days before being pulled, Williams said. And Dougherty brought a fire tube that was on the concrete slab for a day.
“We had a little fun with the city,” Williams said.
Over the course of several months, Williams worked to secure a replacement for Big Red.
Dougherty, owner of Greg’s Welding, and Gustafson, a local collector, are co-owners of the Fordson tractor. Gustafson found it north of town, where it hadn’t been used for 30 years.
The tractor predates the Gurley Overpass by more than half a century and was built five years before the Great Depression. It ran on a 20 horsepower four cylinder engine and was made by none other than Henry Ford.
“Henry Ford actually did this, but called it a Fordson because the Ford name was already in use,” Gustafson said.
The Ford Tractor name was already in use by a Minneapolis company, and Ford Motor Company shareholders did not want to get into tractor production, so Henry Ford started a new company just for tractors.
Although it had the power of 20 horsepower, it had a fairly slow top speed, Williams said.
“It’s a walk-behind tractor, which means you can walk faster than it goes,” he said.
“And if we’re going to put it to work, he’s going to drive it,” Dougherty said, gesturing to Gustafson.
Williams said the mayor’s arts council didn’t agree with the tractor right away, but they were eventually convinced.
“They said, ‘Well, that’s not really what we do, art-wise,'” Williams said. “I told them, ‘You can have art from the north end of town, and you can have art from the south end of town.’ It made a lot of laughs.
Gustafson noted the parallels between this sculpture situation and the progression of industrialization and agriculture, replacing a horse with a tractor.
“We can say that we are getting newer,” he said. “We used to plow with a horse, and they gave up the horse and went to the tractor. Maybe we’re just modernizing.
“We are still a hundred years behind,” he said.
“Eventually we’ll catch up,” Williams said.
Dougherty noted that the nickname, Big Red, may not have been the most accurate, since the tractor hasn’t been red for decades.
“We’ll call it Rusty Red,” Williams said.
The three men started thinking about other artwork or old farm equipment they could use to brighten up Gillette North.
“What are we going to do here next, guys?” asked Williams. “We have to do something else. Maybe you can find an old combine harvester or an old plow. I have an old plow at home.
“I have some old stuff at the ranch,” Dougherty said.
“We could put one on each pad,” Williams said.