MUSCATINE, Iowa — What a watermelon!
Ask anyone around the Muscatine area, you'll probably hear that the locally-grown watermelons and cantaloupes are the best in the world. The uniquely sandy soil is said to create the perfect conditions for sweet, juicy melons. And now, the city is one step closer to a record-breaking art piece honoring the pink fruit.
Muscatine has built a 40-foot long, 26-foot tall, 16,000-pound metal watermelon.
The structure is a towering red slice of fruit, resting on its rind and tilted up to the sky with a bite taken out of the top. It's speculated this could be the world's largest watermelon, with the city saying the next closest competitor, in Australia, clocks in at 29 feet long and 9 feet tall.
The watermelon was designed and built over the course of two months by Muscatine County company, Silver Hawk Fabrication.
"It just blew me away on the overall scale of the watermelon," fabrication and industrial sales service manager, Chris Hasken, said. "It's quite the amazing structure."
More than 350 hours went into the giant steel watermelon's assembly, according to Hasken.
"The outside shell was three pieces on each side. They were oversized sheets, so about 40 feet long. And then there are some stiffeners on the inside as well," Hasken said. "It was all welded and there's a little over 1,200 linear feet worth of welds on this so it is seamless."
Now, Muscatine artist Johan Umaña will spend the next two to three weeks painting the watermelon before it's transported down to the city's riverfront.
The foundation for the giant fruit has already been laid, courtesy of Silver Hawk Fabrication. It's located by Millennium Plaza, just downriver from the basketball courts. There, it will be illuminated by lights from Musco Lighting.
"It means the world to Muscatine, absolutely," Mayor Brad Bark said. "When people are coming up and down the riverfront, it's gonna say Muscatine. So people will look at that as kind of a gateway from the river onto our riverfront, and seeing a big watermelon welcoming them."
Bark says the idea was born months ago when he was trying to come up with something innovative and exciting for the city's riverfront.
"We didn't have anything watermelon-related! So we started strategizing," Bark said.
On top of utilizing a local company and a local artist, perhaps the sweetest part of this mammoth melon is the fact that it won't cost taxpayers a dime. Thanks to financial and in-kind donations from about 15 entities, the entire project has been paid for.
Silver Hawk Fabrication is one of those entities, donating in-kind the foundation the fruit will stand on (or the fruit stand, if you will).
"We just love being involved in our community and it's something that we're going to be able to drive by every single day and say that we were a part of," Hasken said. "That just gives us a lot of pride. And it's good to give back to the community that we live in and work in every day."
The melon is scheduled to be delivered to the Muscatine riverfront in mid-September, with the chamber of commerce planning an unveiling party sometime after that.
"It's a great community project for not only the city but our county. And then of course the state! We're going to be recognized for the world's largest watermelon slice," Bark said.
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