CASEY, Ill. | Jim Bolin is busy saving his Casey hometown, one world record at a time.
Thanks to him and the helpful talent at his family-run BEI Pipeline & Tank Maintenance firm, Casey already is home to the world's largest wind chime, which stands 55 feet high and weighs 8½ tons.
It's now been joined by the world's largest golf tee that towers more than 30 feet tall and measures 26 inches thick before fanning out at the top to some 6 feet across. The 3½-ton yellow pine tee is now in the Guinness Book of World Records and was unveiled recently at its new home, the Casey Country Club, which was looking for something dramatic to drive membership and publicize itself in these rather lean times.
Bolin said small towns all over Central Illinois are in danger of drying up unless they can come up with a hole-in-one that scores the interest of passing drivers. His mission is to re-create the offbeat and fun attractions that once characterized the great family road trip before the superhighway system drove a high-speed stake of anonymity through the heart of rural Americana.
"If people pull off the interstate to see something, they are going to buy gas, people have to eat, it's a practical thing," explains Bolin, 48. "That's what keeps your town alive, and we're just trying to give them a reason for Casey to be the place where they stop."
Bolin is a vice president at BEI, and Michael Bohannon, the firm's operations manager, also happens to be the president of the Casey Country Club. When Bolin suggested the big tee to help the club out, Bohannon took the idea to the club board and received a unanimous vote of support. The tee came free, but the club is spending $30,000 on landscaping around it and there are ambitious future plans for an 18-foot-diameter golf ball to sit on top one day, maybe hollowed out in such a way that players will be able to climb up and take a shot from it.
"Jim has got vision," said Bohannon, who helped him create the golf tee, which was carved with chain saws. "We believe in what he's doing."
The wider tapestry of Bolin's grand design has many threads, however, which is how he came to fashion the mother of all crochet hooks along with two knitting needles scaled for Godzilla. Their world record status is pending, and they were done as a publicity gift for the Yarn Studio on East Main Street in Casey. Store owner Jeanette Huisinga, a cousin of Bolin's wife, Diane, had been impressed with the amount of business traffic already being driven by the siren song of the wind chime (completed in 2012) and told him so.
"And then Jim says to me, 'I have an idea for your business,'" she said. "He's always thinking outside the box."
Way, way outside. Bolin had hit the Guinness Book website (it's on his favorites list, of course) and discovered the current globally dominant pair of knitting needles were a paltry 11 feet, ¾ inches long. Bolin and friends came up with a pair finished to perfection in laminated white pine that are 13 feet, ¾ inches long, weigh 26 pounds each and are 3¼ inches in diameter. There was no world record for a crochet hook, but it's safe to say Bolin's version hooked it out of the park at 6 feet, 1½ inches long, some 3 inches in diameter and weighing 9 pounds.
One added wrinkle with this kind of Guinness record is that if you claim you have the world's biggest knitting needles, or crochet hook, somebody has to actually do some knitting or crocheting with them. An official measuring ceremony was held recently at Casey's Monroe Elementary School, and then Huisinga, assisted by her daughter, Tara Whitacre, got busy: she knitted locally raised wool into a section 29 inches long by 33 inches wide with the giant needles, and crocheted a section of wool 36 inches wide and 26½ inches long with the big hook.
Huisinga said the crochet hook was somewhat maneuverable, but working with the needles (propped on a sawhorse) became an exercise in aerobics as she wrapped and pulled the wool like a fisherman hauling nets.
"It was a full-body workout," she said. "But we got it all done in 30 minutes; it was a miracle."
She plans to display the record-breaking needles crossed-swords fashion over the store entrance and to have the hook set up on a stand inside so customers can try their hand at some heavy duty crochet. "It's a novelty, but, you know, people like novelty and it's pretty exciting," said Huisinga, 49.
"And to have someone like Jim believe in you and do the things that he has done for my business is just great. I mean, how many guys would think a business like this is great? I was very flattered."
The trouble with records, however, is that they are made to be broken, and no one knows that better than Casey's master publicist. So rather than just resting on his laurels as the tourists and their dollars preserve the town, Bolin already is embarked on his next monster quest: a massive and fully functional wooden rocking chair destined for a spot close by the wind chime.
"I'm shooting for 56 feet tall," he said.