Larger twine balls may exist, but Minnesota farmer Francis Johnson’s is the largest rolled by a single individual. His efforts have inspired copycats, but none yet have succeeded in breaking the record set by this visionary, who started the twine ball in 1950 and continued rolling it until 1979. The twine ball measures 12 feet in diameter, a whopping 17,400 lbs, and took 29 years to make, with Johnson toiling four hours a day. He was an independent craftsman - he even carved his own tweezers to pull the twine, some of which are on display in the tiny museum adjacent to the ball’s gazebo. The ball was moved here after Johnson’s death; during his lifetime, it resided in a round open air shed on his lawn.
Standing in front of the twine ball, you can get a view of most of Darwin, Minnesota’s main drag. Immediately apparent is the fact that tourists only come to the town for one thing. Directly in front of you is the Twine Ball Inn; across the street, Twine Ball Antiques welcomes you. A banner proclaims the annual Twine Ball Festival. Within the museum, t-shirts and keychains are for sale. In a back room, you are urged to consider models of the town’s other historical buildings, in a hopeless bid to convince you that there is more of interest here than the twine ball.
On the wall by the cash register, a large collection of photographs of Weird Al hugging the twine ball cement the feeling that you’ve found something special. (Devotees may recall that Weird Al wrote a lovely song about the twine ball).
In the end, the twine ball is a symbol of folly, the ultimate waste of time, but at the same time the creation of something that brings joy to everyone who views it. A comment book is stored in a mailbox next to the twine ball. Virtually every comment–from visitors worldwide–suggests delight and good humor. The twine ball is an experience not to be missed.
Know Before You Go
Hwy 12 to Darwin, turn left onto 1st St. (County Rd. 14). The twine ball will be on the left, next to the water tower.