Balls!

Today’s Zippy takes us to Nowata OK, a tiny, flat, and dusty place at the northeastern edge of the state (not far from Kansas and Missouri, not far from Tulsa):

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This is Zippy, so of course Nowata is a real place, with Chris Barbee’s Bowling Ball Yard in it.

(The title of this posting is just a lame testicular joke, of course. The title of the strip, on the other hand, is a bit of word play on strike as a bowling term — ‘the event of knocking down all the pins with the first ball of a frame’ — vs. the idiom striking distance ‘a distance from which something can be easily reached or attained’.)

On the name of the town, from Wikipedia:

The first community established at this site was named Metz, named for its first postmaster, Fred Metzner. The name was changed even before the railroad was built in 1889. Nowata served as a train stop for Native Americans from the East being resettled by the government. The Lenape tribesmen who passed through named it “nuwita,” meaning “friendly” or “welcome.” In the Cherokee language, the town is called ᎠᎹᏗᎧᏂᎬᎬ (A-ma-di-ka-ni-gunh-gunh, roughly), which means, “water is all gone,” translating what it sounded like the word meant: No Water.

(Oklahoma historical sources provide this entertaining story, but I don’t know what experts on Amerindian onomastics think of it.)

Downtown Nowata:

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On the Bowling Ball Yard, from the Roadside America site today:

“I’ve been called everything from an artist to a crazy old fool,” said Chris Barbee, standing next to a robot he built of bowling balls.

Chris began dabbling in bowling ball art in the early 1990s, when his wife Carol had a garden in their yard. Instead of decorating it with gazing balls — which could shatter in Oklahoma weather — the Barbees used old bowling balls.

Then Carol died. As a tribute, Chris took the balls — which at the time numbered maybe a dozen — and started building a decorative fence along the road. He planned to add to it slowly, buying balls at yard sales. “I figured it’d take two, three years,” said Chris. “Then people seen what I was doing, and the balls starting coming in.”

The fence grew longer and longer with each donation, and Chris finally stopped it at 108 balls — but by then he had hundreds more. So he decided to use his surplus on other projects.

Today, Chris’s yard has about 70 of his bowling ball creations, ranging from single-ball versions of ladybugs and pigs to a large American flag (273 balls) and an Egyptian pyramid (1,015 balls). A giant rosary (59 balls) was built by Chris to honor his mother. The robot (45 balls) stands half-hidden in a canebrake in a corner of the lot.

“I just try to think of something to do with balls, and go from there,” said Chris of his art project. “I had no idea it’d grow as big as it has.”

Chris showed us his bowling ball house (344 bowling balls, 140 pins), which shelters his mini-museum of donated bags, trophies, and other bowling paraphernalia. Goofy bowling towels line the inner walls as insulation. Chris’s “special” balls, which he doesn’t want to leave out in the weather, are displayed inside; elaborately decorated with themes ranging from SpongeBob Squarepants to “Freedom Isn’t Free.” Chris also has a nearly complete collection of bowling balls from every state. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead if they think they have a ball that Chris needs.

Pyramid and bowling ball house; its roof is made of old pins:

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