As Jack Taylor saw the record-setting snow pile up outside, only one response seemed appropriate: Build a record-setting snowman.
So he did — with a little help from friends and family.
Taylor, 28, of Black River Falls, put the finishing touches Tuesday morning on what he believes is the largest snowman ever built in Wisconsin.
The 40-foot-tall colossus — with car tires for buttons, 5-gallon bucket lids for eyes and an orange construction cone for a nose — stands proudly at the farm owned by Taylor’s parents, Elizabeth and Jack Taylor Sr., at N3260 E. Pine Hill Road, about eight miles south of Black River Falls in Jackson County.
“You know how the old saying goes, ‘When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade,’ so I figured when God gives you record snowfall, you make a record snowman,” Taylor said, noting that he came up with the idea last winter but didn’t believe there was enough snow to pursue the project.
That’s not a problem this year, when communities throughout west-central Wisconsin set a monthly snowfall record in February and are nearing or have broken all-time winter records. Black River Falls has received 71.7 inches of snow so far this winter, setting an unofficial new season high since record-keeping began in 1893, said Logan Lee, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in La Crosse.
Five people worked on the snowman for about five days, Taylor reported. In addition to shovels, hands and feet, the crew resorted to heavy equipment, including a Bobcat, skid steer and snowplow, to move snow into position. To get snow to the top of the gargantuan creation, they employed a corn elevator — the kind normally used to put hay in the upper level of a barn.
“Then we had somebody up there packing it down with shovels and feet so it doesn’t just blow away,” said Taylor, an independent filmmaker who owns his own company, Taylor Media.
He applied the final decorations Tuesday, wrapping an entire roll of red felt around the snowman’s neck for a scarf, hanging the tires from the snow sculpture’s belly on fence posts and concocting a black top hat out of metal framing and plastic.
The giant snowman already has been creating a stir in the community as word spreads and gawkers drive by. The Black River Area Chamber of Commerce reported receiving quite a few phone calls Tuesday morning from people wondering how to get to the site.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Amanda Gunn, the chamber’s executive director. “Jack does a really good job of bringing the community together with his videos, and this is another good example of that.”
The biggest motivation for Taylor was to give people a reason to smile in a winter that has brought more grimaces than grins.
“A big part of it is to bring the town together and make people proud of where they come from, and I thought this snowman could be a means to that end,” he said, adding that he hopes it will bring attention to his hometown as the “home of the state’s largest snowman ever.”
Taylor is no stranger to setting records. As a college basketball player at Grinnell College in Iowa, he set the National Collegiate Athletic Association record for most points scored in a game when he piled up 138 points on Nov. 20, 2012, against Faith Baptist Bible College. The feat attracted national news.
His latest attempt at a record came about after Taylor searched the internet for reports of the biggest snowmen built in Wisconsin and couldn’t find anything taller than 20 or 30 feet.
“I just built it bigger than any stories I saw, and then I claimed the record,” he said, acknowledging that his project doesn’t threaten the Guinness World Records-sanctioned snowman measuring 122 feet, 1 inch tall that was built over a month in 2008 in Bethel, Maine.
Still, several observers have indicated the Jackson County snowman looks even bigger than they expected, and Taylor said such comments have him feeling like all the hard work was worthwhile.
One of Taylor’s assistant snow sculptors, retired Black River Falls elementary school teacher Tom Epps, said he took part because he wanted to be part of state history — and thought the project sounded like fun.
Epps said the crew used fencing to hold sections of the snowman in place until they could pack it down and then kept repeating that technique until the snowman was complete.
“We’d fill it up, and up we went,” Epps said. “It was quite a process.”
With a forecast calling for rain and high temperatures in the upper 40s and 50s the next two days, the question of how long the snowman will remain standing is up in the air.
“I don’t know when this thing is going to melt,” Taylor said. “It could be May. Who knows? It could be June.”