Gary Greff's vision to make his hometown of Regent, N.D., the "metal sculpture capital of the world" got off to an optimistic start — volunteers and money came together in 1995 to erect the "tin family" on the side of the road connecting the town with the interstate highway.
Greff motivated the town with a combination of charisma and dogged determination. After the "tin family," other sculptures took shape along the Enchanted Highway in quick succession — a fanciful Teddy Roosevelt on a rearing horse, a giant family of pheasant, a buck and doe jumping a fence.
"It'll make history one day," Greff says in a video documenting the project's progress. "It'll be one of North Dakota's main tourist attractions."
But by the late 1990s, after a town investment of $25,000 and an untold number of hours of work by volunteers, the tourist money Greff promised failed to show up. The town's enthusiasm with the project waned, and Greff's volunteer force slowly drifted away. In 1999, Greff lost his seat on the town council to candidates who opposed the project.
Still, Greff keeps going, working 16-hour days to build his next project: a giant grasshopper. His brother Brad says much of the motivation to keep the project going may be personal. When Greff was 16, he and a younger brother were riding a motorcycle — with Greff driving — when he lost control and crashed. His brother died.
"Maybe he felt that it was his fault," Brad Greff says. "Maybe by doing this project, it's a way of saying 'I'm a good person.'" In addition to the 11 sculptures along the Enchanted Highway, Gary Greff plans to build a shrine to his lost brother.
We conclude our story Wednesday — Gary Greff builds the world's largest metal sculpture, and finally, tourists begin to arrive in Regent.