GILMAN — In a farm field near the town of Gilman, MN, surrounded by huge snowdrifts and gaping onlookers, stands a 50-foot-tall snowman named Granddaddy.
Granddaddy is smiling. So too are the onlookers, who come from miles around to marvel at him.
That was the point of building Granddaddy, says Gilman farmer Greg Novak, taking the remnants of winter's dour doldrums and making something that gives people joy.
Gerald and Diane Harbarth were among the amused onlookers Sunday. They came more than 70 miles from Brownton to look upon the ginormous snowman.
The Harbarths learned about Granddaddy on a television news report. But craning their necks to view him in person was something else entirely.
"This is unreal," Gerald Harbarth said.
5 weeks, many hours
A towering tribute to perseverance and whimsy, Granddaddy was completed last week — the product of almost five weeks and hundreds of man-hours of labor.
His story began earlier this winter, when mounting snowpiles caused a roof collapse of one of the greenhouses in which Novak plants vegetables at his farm north of Gilman on Benton County Road 3.
Novak needed to move heaps of snow away from his other greenhouses to avert another roof collapse.
"As long as you're moving it, might as well do something practical with it," Novak said.
Novak had done something equally practical once before, in 1991. Then he built a progenitor to Granddaddy, who stood 29 feet high.
But many of Novak's young nieces and nephews never saw his original snow titan. The grower decided to build another one they could enjoy, but this time he would go even bigger.
Granddaddy's construction was no small task. Starting in late January Novak endured frequent weather-related setbacks, including snowstorms and frigid temperatures that delayed work. Other obstacles included moments of self-doubt and a few neighbors questioning his sanity.
But other neighbors gave encouragement, such as the one who said his children begged him to drive past Novak's farm each day to watch the progress. Friends and family pitched in to help with Granddaddy, or to do farm chores while Novak toiled away on him.
"When I start a job, I like to finish it," Novak said.
To move the sheer amount of snow needed for Granddaddy, Novak used skid loaders to pile snow into a wagon. He used a silage blower to blow snow into makeshift, fenced-in silos. That created the stacked cylinders — 45 feet wide at the base, each smaller than the one below it — of which Granddaddy is made.
A 61-foot auger, bent and made useless during a storm, was fashioned into Granddaddy's arms. A 55-gallon barrel became his bulbous blue nose. A 35-foot-tall broomstick was made so he could look, like his builder, ever-ready for a day's work.
All worth it
Novak pondered other names for Granddaddy. "El Grande" and "Mr. Snovak" were among the contenders. But Granddaddy seemed most fitting, since he stands guard over one of Benton County's century farms.
Granddaddy was conceived as something for Novak's friends and loved ones to relish. Now, aided by word of mouth and news reports, he's making the day of perfect strangers such as the Harbarths.
On Sunday, it was evident that the delight Granddaddy gives onlookers is starting to rub off on Novak.
"It puts a smile on people's faces," Novak said. "When people smile, you know you've done a good thing."