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Enchanted, Indeed!

Posted by Bill Vossler 10/31/2016 3:30:45 PM

Enchanted, Indeed!

Highway Helps Town and Aids Region's Tourism

By Bill Vossler

   When Gary Greff took a sabbatical from teaching school in 1989, little did the Regent, North Dakota, native know he would stay in his hometown, and become the town's, and perhaps even the region's, savior. "Well, I'd say that's pretty strong language. I'd rather say 'I helped,'" Greff says of that characterization. 

   While in Regent again he realized his hamlet needed some betterment, or it would die. "In only 20 years it had lost a third of its population, so I knew something had to be done to get people and businesses here."

   One day while driving down Hettinger County Road 2117, he spotted a well-worn path into a field of harvested corn. Several visitors were snapping pictures of prairie art: a dummy in overalls hoisting a thousand-pound hay bale above its head.

    "I thought, if people will drive off the road for that, how many more would come for something grander? No big business is going to come into a small community like this. We've got to work with what we've got, and what we had was a paved highway. So I figured, ‘I'll give you a reason to drive down it.'"

   That "something grander" became his dream of the Enchanted Highway, today's seven giant iron sculptures reflecting prairie life situated along 32 miles of lonely, winding, but very accessible road south off Interstate 94's Exit 72. The Enchanted Highway offers panoramic views of grassland, buttes, and bluffs - and the largest iron sculptures in the world - before ending on Regent's Main Street.

Auspicious Beginning

   At the outset, everything looked grand for the implementation of Greff‘s idea.  The first two sculptures reinvigorated the community, says Greff. Supported financially by citizens, local civic organizations, and the North Dakota Council on the Arts, a local crew of farmers and ranchers spent the winter of 1992 making the Tin Family. "This  was first because family was important in settling our country," Greff says.

   The Tin Family, like all the sculptures, utilizes local products - barbed wire for the mother's hair, grain augers for earrings, while the son licks a lollipop - the bottom of a 500-gallon farm fuel tank. "Normal-sized sculptures wouldn't lure people into my sleepy town," Greff says. That's why all the sculptures are oversized. Tin Pa, supported by 16 hidden telephone poles, is 45 feet tall. Tin Ma, a foot shorter, is supported by a dozen. Tin Kid is 23 feet high. "It took a bit of engineering to figure what size could be supported against the prairie wind and storms."

   A year later came Theodore Roosevelt Rides Again. Used oil well pipe was erected to build this second sculpture, weighing 9,000 pounds, commemorating the 26th U.S. President, who declared that if it had not been for the time he spent in North Dakota, especially its Badlands located 90 miles away from Regent, he would never have been President.

   Teddy, created in 1993, rides his favorite horse, Mulley, 51-feet tall, behind a stagecoach for children, and a jungle gym. Greff received less family and community help for this sculpture.

   And that would be the pattern moving on as he created his next five sculptures. Though farmers have since loaned equipment, and leased land for $1 so Greff could continue his project, early enthusiasm has waned. "I began to realize this was going to end up being a Greff thing," the 61-year-old bachelor says.

   The project has been his full-time non-paying job for two decades. "I figured nobody else could give up that kind of time." He hires area youth, including Boy Scouts, to help him from time to time.

   The sculptures stretch from the largest, Geese in Flight, higher than a 10-story building, just off I-94's Exit 72, followed by another every four miles south. Each sculpture area possesses a parking lot, picnic tables, information board, and small, child-friendly sculptures to climb on. All the folk-art sculptures are huge, most 40 feet or taller, constructed of local materials - oil well tanks and pipes, old farm machinery, scrap metal.

   Kathy Greff, Gary's sister-in-law, says her four sons and other area youth have worked on the project. "They've learned a lot, responsible job safety, welding, site mowing and upkeep. Eagle Scout projects included building playground equipment and bulletin boards for the sites."

   "They've also learned about recycling," Greff says. "Most of the sculptures first belonged to something else."

   The other finished sculptures include:

   Pheasants on the Prairie. This third sculpture was completed in 1996, in honor of the game bird that brings hunters to the area. The three-dimensional 40-foot high by 70-foot long rooster pheasant, with his 35-by 60-foot hen, and trio of 15-by-20-foot chicks, all made of wire mesh, are so real, area clergyman Joe Berg recalls that a hunting dog half a mile away went immediately into point.

   Also memorable was the time Greff had to cut a pheasant in half because it was too wide to come out of the workshop.

   Grasshoppers in the Field. In 1999, sculpture number four was erected. "The grasshopper forced the farmer to find alternative crops, but more importantly, it challenged his patience and integrity, making him a better farmer," Greff says.

   The five grasshoppers, made of old fuel oil and oil well tanks cut into pieces and welded back together, face the road. The largest, 40-feet tall and 50-feet long, is trailed by four 12-by-15-foot grasshoppers, as well as three smaller ones suitable for youngsters' crawling. The work took one winter, and another for site readiness.

   Geese in Flight came next, in 2001. Atop the hill off I-94's exit 72, this sculpture intrigued passersby with its monstrous size. The gravel road up to the sculpture is flanked by miniature metal geese on steel poles. The sculpture itself, built of flattened oil well tanks, pipes, and scrap metal, was the most expensive at $50,000. "Most went for a construction crane," Greff says. Weighing 157,659 pounds, it is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest scrap-metal sculpture. At 154 feet, it is nearly as wide as a football field.

   Deer Crossing. Silhouettes of a buck 75-feet high by 60-feet long and a doe 50-by-50-feet grace the road a few miles south. He had to perform surgery on the buck's leg, as telephone poles made Regent's Main Street's too narrow. "I rewelded the leg on out at the site."

   The deer are also made of oil well tanks cut apart and welded to form the shadow-like design.

   Fisherman's Dream. The most recent sculpture, a three-dimensional view of seven fish in the sky, was completed in 2006. A fisherman in a boat tried to land a leaping 70-foot-long rainbow trout. Other 30-foot long fish include a small mouth bass, walleye, catfish, northern pike, salmon and bluegill. "Welding sparks started a grass fire here," Greff says, "So in town the word was that we'd had the world's largest fish fry."

   Most sculptures cost between $20,000 and $50,000 each, and all the money is donated.

Present Success, Future Hopes

   Since the completion of the first seven sculptures, new businesses have come to Regent - a couple of gift shops, a convenience store, an RV park, a new building for the Ag Alliance feed store, and Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing.

   And people. Postmaster Ervin Binstock says, "On Main Street I see an unbelievable amount of traffic - cars and tour buses - coming through." They are from every state, in addition to  worldwide locations in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

   Greff's future plans for sculptures include a spider web on I-94; a huge buffalo, or bison; an American Indian on a horse spearing a buffalo; a farm scene over a wheat field and sunset, all in 3-D. The one he is working on now will be the "world's largest motorcycle," measuring 102-feet tall and 40-feet wide, all made to scale. Greff hopes the first piece of this sculpture will be erected this summer next to the Enchanted Highway Gift Shop, with the remaining being finished as money comes in.

   "At the beginning I only thought like an artist, but now I've realized I have to think more like a businessman if this project is going to be self-sustaining, so we're trying to figure out ways to get more people visiting here, over and above the 15,000 per year we already have."

   The motorcycle will cost twice the other projects, or about $100,000, with $20,000 raised so far through a motorcycle raffle. But Greff has a positive attitude that it will be raised one way or another, although not through any state money. "People are astonished when I tell them that we don't get any monetary support from the state of North Dakota at all."

   Professor Vince Vitelka, formerly of North Dakota State University, says of the Enchanted Highway sculptures, "Farmers are artists of the land, and the imagery appearing in these sculptures is folk art in its finest form."

   Greff's hopes are for it to be the number one tourist attraction in North Dakota someday. "It's going to be awesome when it's all done. As long as your dream is alive, you've got a chance. I've always been a dreamer," the former educator says. "When I see something, I always wonder, how could you make it better?'"

   Julius Honeyman, the Regent farmer who donated land for the pheasants sculpture says, "I think it's amazing what one guy with a vision, and a dream, can do if he puts his mind to it."

The Castle to open this spring

   Greff is presently working on finishing The Castle, a 20-room motel remodeled out of the old Regent school, planned for opening in April. "We're down to putting on the finishing touches, tiling the entryway, carpeting the halls, and grouting. All the plumbing, electricity, and other work has been donated on shares of the profits of the motel," Greff says, which shows how many area people have come to believe in the project.

   After the motel proves successful, Greff wants to build a steakhouse and a lounge. "We have to take it one step at a time. I don't think all of this will be completed in my lifetime, but one thing I know is that I never stop dreaming."

Bill Vossler is a former North Dakota teacher and a frequent contributor to North Dakota Horizons. He lives is Rockville, Minnesota, and can be reached at

Information on the giant sculptures along the Enchanted Highway can be found at; or at, where donations to the Enchanted Highway 501-3C nonprofit organization, can be made.

Greff can be contacted at, or Enchanted Highway Inc., P.O. Box 184, Regent, ND 58650, 701-563-6400.


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