The Paul Bunyans
Westwood, CA  •  Viola, CA  •  Klamath, CA  •  Grants Pass, OR  •  Shelton, WA  •  Puyallup, WA  •  Portland, OR

Shelton, WA

Lloyd Prouty’s Paul Bunyan statue rises crisp and handsome from a weedy field of rusted car bodies. Only a few years ago the statue lay in thirteen pieces behind the stadium at Shelton High School. With an estimated $50,000 in donated labor and materials, Prouty restored the statue. “I believe you need to give back to a community, and this Paul Bunyan statue is how I give to Shelton,” Prouty says.

The Shelton Bunyan is a 20-foot high statue of the muffler man type. His shirt is solid red with suspenders painted over it. His newly restored fingers are long and slender, like those of pianist. In fact, one of his fingers on his left hand is slightly longer than it should be (“I did it for my kids,” admitted fiberglass craftsman Jim Pinkston, who added half an inch or so to the bird finger).

Shelton, located in Washington’s Olympic Penninsula, has deep roots in the timber industry. Every year Shelton holds a Forest Festival and Paul Bunyan Parade, lately featuring Prouty’s Bunyan statue. Prouty’s brother-in-law welded a trailer and hydraulic lift for the statue so that he can tow the statue through the parade. For transport to the parade route, the statue lies face up, its head cradled in a carpeted sling. With the flip of a switch, the statue rises, Lazurus-like, to a standing position. This ability to raise and lower the statue comes in handy during the parade when the statue must be lowered to go under power lines. As the Paul Bunyan statue approaches power lines, the crowd cheers and yells “Limbo Paul! Limbo Paul!”

Shelton nominates one man each year to play Paul Bunyan for the festival. Not surprisingly, these men tend to be tall and on the husky side. Shelton’s Historical Society has photos of the play-acting Paul Bunyans through the years, some wearing felt beards, and all holding a jumbo axe. The Historical Society also features a wall of Forest Festival Princesses dating back to 1945. Each princess is back-lit and wears a crown, except for 1968’s princess, Jan Gwinett, who holds her crown to the side so as not to trouble her bouffant hairdo.

The Forest Festival also features a Paul Bunyan story-writing contest open to Mason County’s high school students. This year’s winning story is about Lucy, Paul’s ill-natured purple cow, who produces strawberry ice cream during the winter. Many of the students opt to write their stories using “tall tale” jargon, much like in the Yosemite Sam cartoons. Other stories reflect teen angst, as shown in the story about Paul Bunyan’s ill-fated romance with “Anita Pinita, the smallest woman in Mexico”. Still other stories focus on Babe, including a story featuring Babe’s parents, Bobby and Babette.

With the myth of Paul Bunyan so firmly rooted in Shelton’s culture, the Paul Bunyan statue has been an important part of the town’s landscape. The statue came to Shelton in the mid- 1960s, when brothers Ed and Bob Binger bought it for $1,600 to promote their chain of gas stations. Originally they hauled the statue from station to station, until it was kidnapped by college students in Tacoma. Thinking the statue would be safer in Shelton, the Binger brothers installed him permanently at their gas station downtown. Despite their vigilance, it was beheaded during a rash of vandalism that also resulted in the plywood cut-out of the Santa next to the Burger Pit being sawn off at the knees.

The Binger Brothers sold their station to Gull, and in 1991, Gull closed the gas station altogether. A custody battle over the statue quickly erupted between the City of Shelton and the Mason County Tourism Council. The Tourism Council’s plan was to put the statue at the tourist center in Taylor Towne. “We’d fix it up and paint it real nice,” The Shelton Journal reported a member of the Council’s board as saying. “Absolutely not,” a member of the local Chamber of Commerce replied. A city employee spearheading Shelton’s fight to keep the statue added that she intended to “get him into our hot little hands before something happened to him.”

In the end, the City of Shelton won the battle and promptly hauled the statue to the city’s wastewater treatment plant where it lay ignored for a year, its axe on the ground beside it. In 1992, the City agreed to give the statue to Shelton High School to use as a mascot for its football team, the Shelton Highclimbers.

The statue was repainted in the school’s colors and acquired the painted suspenders it still wears. However, the statue was too tempting a target for vandals. Its axe was stolen on the eve of a football game with a rival high school in Tumwater. The statue suffered another beheading, this time having rope strung through holes in its head and being suspended between two trees. Officials at the high school locked up the statue’s head and left the body lying behind the high school’s stadium. At one point a homeless boy slept in the roomy cavity of the statue’s chest.

In 1996, Lloyd Prouty convinced the high school to give him the statue so that he could restore it and return it to a protected, but regular, presence in Shelton’s community. Prouty is an antique car enthusiast, and he fashioned a five-foot long muffler for the statue so that he can replace Paul’s axe when he takes the statue to car shows. Prouty is also looking for a fiberglass ox to mount on a pickup truck to accompany the Paul Bunyan statue to parades and car shows.  

backward! onward!