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Possibly the most amazing thing about the Forevertron and other Dr. Evermor sculptures is there are no blueprints. The plans reside only in Dr. Evermor’s brain: “No sketches, no models, no nothing. I just go for it.” Many of these sculptures, like the Juicer Bug, for example, weigh more than 15 tons. The body of the Bug was hoisted onto spindly legs, a tricky proposition for even the most adept engineer. Dr. Evermor has learned to rely on his own calculations. As he says, “no engineering firm could compute the compression on these legs.”
Born in 1938, Tom O. Every the youth was enthralled by “junk.” Traveling by bicycle through his neighborhood streets of Brooklyn, Wisconsin, Every sought out unusual objects which he sold, traded and turned into useful gadgets. Every’s childhood fascination with historic materials would lead to a career in industrial wreckage, a career he would later question and then renounce in 1983.
Working in the wreckage and salvage business, Every traveled to outmoded factories and industrial sites, dismantling well designed but outdated pieces of machinery. Three decades of “destruction,” however, began to take its toll. Every began to see that “many of these shapes and forms would soon disappear from our landscape entirely,” he said. “Whether it is tank ends with interesting rivets, shapes that come from breweries, or whatever, because of the metal value they’d be just melted down.” Every took it upon himself to save as much of this “stuff” as he could. Unusual components were brought back to Wisconsin. There they were sorted by form and function and stashed away. In the end, Every had amassed a lot of stuff, by his estimate about a thousand tons. When Tom retired in 1983, he began filling a multi-acre site near Baraboo, Wisconsin with towering assemblages of those artifacts.
Out from the Wreckage: Dr. Evermor!
Every’s shift from wrecker to preserver of wreckage led to his “rebirth” as Dr. Evermor the fictional character. “I became Dr. Evermor around 1983 when we started to build the Forevertron. I was a bit upset with the world, not so much the economic conditions as the judicial system and things like that, and I wanted to perpetuate myself back into the heavens on this magnetic lightning force field.”
Every concedes that his alter ego, Dr. Evermor, was a pure figment of his imagination. Like the mythological Greek goddess Athena, the doctor sprang to life fully formed at the age of 45. In his new guise, Dr. Evermor was a slightly eccentric Victorian-era professor-inventor from Eggington, England. As a child, Evermor had been trapped in a huge electrical storm with his father, a Presbyterian minister. Such a storm, his father said, could only come from the hand of God. This event made a big impression on the future doctor. From that day forward, Dr. Evermor knew what he had to do. He would move to Wisconsin and from relics of the industrial age, he would build the Forevertron. This circa 1890s spacecraft would be his salvation.
Recycling Industrial History
Fortunately, Dr. Evermor had friends in the right places. Soon he was assembling salvaged materials from Every’s warehouse, building what would grow to be his 300-ton contraption. The Forevertron is made up of carburetors and generators, early x-ray machines and theater speakers, river barges and hamburger signs, to name just a few of its components. The end result is important to Dr. Evermor. Possibly more important, however, is that each historic piece speaks for itself. His aim is to blend these objects while preserving their individuality and unique form: “Rather than imposing one’s will on something that’s already been created, you leave it alone and you just add or move another piece in as a blender that’ll tie it from one to another… things that were of historic significance we leave alone.” For example, the pair of late nineteenth-century bi-polar dynamos acquired from the Henry Ford Museum stand on their own while being seamlessly integrated into the Forevertron.
Dubbed “The World’s Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture” by the Guinness Book of Records, its centerpiece is the Forevertron – three hundred tons of recycled industrial salvage measuring over 120 feet long and 50 feet tall. Among its other components are a decontamination chamber from the Apollo moon missions and two of Thomas Edison’s original bipolar dynamos.
The Forevertron is masterfully crafted. Above thrusters and electromagnetic power sources sits a glass ball inside a copper egg which will serve as Dr. Evermor’s space capsule. Peripheral parts include the Overlord Master Control, which functions as the electric hub and brain of the Forevertron. The Gravitron will shrink Dr. Evermor down in preparation for space travel. The Celestial Listening Ear allows Evermor to broadcast his observations from space to those back home.
According to Every, he claims to have re-created a device built by a 19th century British scientist inventor named Dr. Evermor, designed to transport him, via electromagnetic energy, to heaven. The Forevertron appears to reference such widely diverse sources as Buck Rogers and Dr. Seuss. It also comes with a tongue-in-cheek back-story. The Forevertron, despite its size and weight, was designed to be relocatable to a different site—the sculpture is built in sections that are connected by bolts and pins.
La Pièce de Résistance
Of all the parts used to build the Forevertron, Dr. Evermor is especially proud of one: the decontamination chamber from the Apollo Space Mission. He recounts the history of its salvage: “The Apollo decontamination chamber was in three trailers [donated to a university]. We wrecked and scrapped most of it, but I kept the two autoclaves that the moon rocks were passed through. We contacted NASA to try to get papers authenticating it, and boy—they’re very touchy about what happened to that stuff. We did get the original drawings and it’s the same damn thing.”
In addition to the Forevertron itself, the sculpture includes a tea house gazebo from which Every says: “Queen Victoria and Prince Albert may observe the launching of Dr. Evermor; it also includes a giant telescope where skeptics may observe the ascent.” Dr. Evermor’s art park is home to a large number of other sculptures including gigantic insects (the “Juicer Bug” and “Arachna Artie”), the “Epicurean” bellows-driven barbecue train, “The Dragon”, and “The UFO”. The most numerous sculptures are the “Bird Band and Orchestra” which includes nearly 70 birds ranging from the size of a child to twenty feet tall, all made from scrap industrial parts, geological survey markers, knives, loudspeakers, springs, and musical instruments, among other salvaged materials. Every says he takes pride in allowing the original materials to remain unaltered as much as possible, using their original forms in new juxtapositions to create his aesthetic. While he himself is not often available for tours of the art park, the site can generally be accessed from passing through the surplus store adjacent to it, Delaney’s Surplus.
The site includes salvage assemblages resembling giant bugs, towering twenty-foot-tall birds, small alien creatures, fantastic canons, and dozens of graceful and humorous birds – all six-foot-tall and incorporating musical instruments – that Every calls “The Bird Band.” His assemblages are whimsical, graceful and, a particular point of pride for him, they are so well-balanced that, if pushed, they spring back to an upright position.
The site is a virtual museum of disappearing technology, lovingly given new life. The florid egg once used to advertise a hamburger joint now appears as a space capsule, an excavator now an eagle’s beak. Every prides himself on transforming these materials into something new without altering their original shape or form. Two of his birds are in the permanent collection of the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and one of his twenty-foot-tall Cello Birds, fashioned from tubs once used by the Veteran’s Administration to heal burn victims, greet visitors to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.