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Darwin’s Twine Ball revisited on the CBS Evening News

November 17, 2008

Charles Kuralt first visited Darwin in 1977, now a CBS reporter retraces the steps taken during his ‘On the Road’ seriesBy Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

DARWIN, MN - Many may recall the CBS reporter, Charles Kuralt, and his “On the Road” series. Long-time Darwin residents may even recall his visit to their small town in 1977, when Kuralt interviewed the maker of the Darwin Twine Ball himself.

Now, 30 years later, Darwin hit the airwaves again in a series remembering Kuralt’s travels across the country.

In “Finding That Ball of Twine Once Again,” by CBS Evening News reporter Steve Hartman said, “To the town of Darwin, MN, it has become a treasure – a treasure now kept safe under lock and gazebo.

“It’s a treasure Charles Kuralt discovered 30 years ago, when he pulled over his RV to interview the greatest collector … of all twine.

“In his original dispatch, Kuralt reported, ‘Like many rural Americans of his age and upbringing, Francis Johnson believes in thrift and conservation.’”

In 1977, Johnson told Kuralt in his original interview, “My mother taught me to not waste anything.”

At that time, the ball was 38 feet wide and 13 feet tall. Kuralt said if the ball were unraveled it would stretch from Darwin to the Gulf of Mexico.

During Wednesday’s broadcast, Hartman spoke with Twine Ball Museum Director Roger Werner.

Werner explained that Johnson died in 1989, of emphysema – not from smoking, but from breathing twine fibers.

The report went on to explain that Johnson’s world record was beaten by people in Cawker, KS, who, as a group, created a heavier ball of twine.

That is why the sign by the twine ball reads “made by one man.”

Then, the reporter interviewed another man who told CBS he already had Johnson’s record beat by more than a ton.

The northern Wisconsin man, James Frank Kotera saw Kuralt’s original episode 30 years ago, and began competing.

The somewhat oddly-shaped ball of twine made by Kotera weighs 19,850.

Though Kotera told CBS his ball was “fairly round,” Werner disagreed saying, “It’s a strange shape to that one, so what do you call it a ball?”

Following the program, Werner commented that he was “glad for the coverage,” even if his four-and-a-half-hour-long interview was chopped down to less than a minute on screen.

“This is something we’re proud of, and that they thought it was important enough to do a follow-up,” Werner said.

So often, Werner has heard jokes made about the town and its claim to fame.

“Katie (Couric) didn’t make a joke of it so I was happy with that,” he said, adding she even sounded a little excited about it.

Though the competition exists, Darwin still remains famous for being the first largest ball of twine made my one man.

The town’s residents can also brag that Katie Couric has said “Darwin.”

To see the original “On the Road” series, when Kuralt, himself, visited with Johnson, and the follow-up, check out www.cbsnews.com.


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