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Sunday, March 13, 2011
Touring the Land of Giants
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
HATCH — I had just driven past a 20-foot-long wiener in a bun and visited a 65-foot-tall nuclear missile, which was unarmed and lying on the ground in two pieces in the village equipment yard. Now, I was standing downtown in the shadow of a 30-foot-tall Uncle Sam and across the street from an 11-foot-tall Yogi Bear, who was holding in his right paw a cheeseburger as big as a hatbox.
Small towns in New Mexico tend to have their niche, the thing they are known for. Lincoln and Fort Sumner have Billy the Kid. Chimayó's got its holy dirt. In Roswell, space aliens.
Hatch has always had chile, but lately it has also become known for its collection of really big things.
"Yeah," Mayor Judd Nordyke said when I asked him if it was true that the village had acquired a gigantic missile and planned to erect it out on the highway as a beacon for visitors. "It's kind of the Land of Giants down here."
Nordyke is a willing accomplice in bringing big things to little Hatch, but he is not the ringleader. That title is shared by Josie and Teako Nunn, a whimsical husband-and-wife team who have single-handedly supersized Hatch.
When I dropped by their restaurant, Sparky's Burgers, they were more than happy to give me a tour of their gigantic things.
They had recently taken possession of Yogi Bear, who looked delighted to be parked at the corner of Franklin and Hall streets next to another newcomer, a big bull that previously sat on the roof of an Albuquerque Sirloin Stockade.
On either end of town, the Nunns have planted a 12-foot-tall bright pink pig and a rooster whose red comb hovers 13 feet above the ground.
They drove me up to their main business, an RV renovation company, and introduced me to the Muffler Man, a 27-foot-tall diabolical-looking gent with a hat as big as a bass boat. Muffler Man, acquired through an eBay auction, started the Nunns' — and Hatch's — whole big enchilada five or six years ago.
Teako is a bit of a giant himself. When he's wide-awake, he stands 6 feet 5 inches. He and Josie take great pleasure in oversized hot dogs and pigs and other fiberglass characters.
"I just love the figures," Teako says. "It just makes me happy. They're just fun. It makes me smile every time I see any of it."
Since the restaurant opened two years ago, the Nunns' giants have become an attraction. The chunky family of 8-foot-tall root beer-toting figures on the restaurant roof call attention to the spot, and people like to pose with a giant chile or Ronald McDonald or Colonel Sanders for photos.
"It's turned into a good promotion thing by accident," Teako says.
Despite challenges from the state Transportation Department that some of the Nunns' figures are so tall they violate state law (since resolved), village trustees have granted zoning variances to allow the giants, which are welcome in Hatch.
"Oh, they're good for Hatch," Nordyke said. "They bring hundreds of people into town."
Teako has accepted the presence of the missile as a good-natured challenge. "It's a war of the giants," he told me.
He and Josie have dozens of giants in storage — a 7-foot-tall KFC chicken bucket, numerous other members of the root beer family, a crazed-looking 30-foot-tall chef holding a burger and an ice cream cone and an FAO Schwarz bear whose head alone stands 6 feet tall. Still, Teako acknowledged that finding a figure to best the 65-foot missile and win the war of the giants would be a challenge.
The missile, a Thor, comes unarmed, courtesy of Kirtland Air Force Base's boneyard, and is on permanent loan to Hatch from the New Mexico Space Museum in Alamogordo. In conjunction with the Spaceport of America being built up the road, the missile will advertise Hatch as "The New Gateway to Space."
The missile still needs to be spiffed up and painted, and the village needs to procure land at the interstate and have a base made that will hold the missile erect. The price tag for all that is about $60,000, and a fundraising campaign is under way.
When it is installed, on a rise and decked out with a red light on top, Nordyke believes, the missile will be the largest thing for miles and miles.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or email@example.com.