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National Editorials & Columns

Swetsville Zoo launches interest in ‘fiddling with junk’

For 16 years I lived in Windsor, Colo., a farming community about the size of Mt. Pleasant. When people asked where Windsor was, I would say it was in the middle of a triangle formed by Ft. Collins, Loveland, and Greeley. 

This area, at the base of the Rockies, is also known as the Front Range. Note: Farming in Colorado is much different than Iowa. Colorado farmers raise things like sugar beets, pinto beans and wheat. They also irrigate.

When one lives in Colorado, one has lots of visitors. All of my Iowa relatives, and many of my friends (and a few strangers), at one time or another, found me in Windsor with the expectations of enjoying some of the many things there are to do in Colorado.

Within spitting distance of Windsor is the Poudre Canyon, the Big Thompson Canyon, Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Roosevelt National Forest, and Long’s Peak. However, one of the first stops I would take visitors to would be Swetsville Zoo, at Timnath, or, better said, on the outskirts of Ft. Collins. 

Bill Swets, a retired farmer, finding himself with not much to do, but still having plenty of gumption and a vivid imagination, started collecting old farm machinery and building it into sculptures, most notably dinosaurs and alien critters. He built so many, placing them in his yard and around the farm, that people began stopping to enjoy the sight.

Bill Swets’ farm became so popular that he erected a sign, “Swetsville Zoo.” The rest is history.

In checking the spelling of Swetsville Zoo on Google, a plethora of information popped up.  (Ain’t computers and the internet amazing?)  However, I learned, sadly, that because of Timnath expansion and the widening of a highway, the Swetsville Zoo had to go. 

The good news is that Bill Swets’ sculptures were so popular, and the Swetsville Zoo was such a landmark, that the city of Timnath moved some of his sculptures to city parks and public locations. A portion of the Swetsville Zoo still remains, and many of the sculptures, so people may still stop and behold the creations of a man with an imagination and desire (need) to create.

There is a similar farm north of Agency and east of Ottumwa. The man is a rural mail carrier and spends his spare time building sculptures out of old farm junk and anything he can get his hands on.

He and his wife don’t mind sightseers, although he is shy of having his story told in the newspaper. As with Bill Swets, people stop by and leave off junk that they think the sculptor might be able to use.

A few years ago, I had a couple of pieces of rusty farm junk that I thought would look good attached to each other. I bought the cheapest welder I could find (I never welded before) and, voila, a metal junk sculpture.

So, I bought a better welder, went to flea markets, bought cheap junk, and stuck it together in sometimes ordinary, sometimes unusual fashion. Now I have a whole driveway full of junk, I mean sculptures.

People drop off junk for me to fiddle with. I don’t get into the large farm implement stuff, because I live in town — my neighbors might frown on a backyard junkyard. However, my three-car garage is bursting at the seams.

People walk by and admire (or laugh at) my creations. One friend called to ask if he could bring his guests over to view my “art.” I said sure. Then someone else did the same thing. Hmmm.

Maybe I could call this Swarmsville Zoo. Or, better yet, Empty Nest Mess (In this case, “mess” is good, as in a “mess” of sweetcorn).

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