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World's Largest Covered Wagon soon to be repaired

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[March 01, 2014]  LINCOLN — The World’s Largest Covered Wagon will soon stand straight and tall again on Old Route 66 for the entire world to see.

On Jan. 26, a storm rolled through Lincoln, carrying wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour.

The storm pushed the monstrous wagon askew, breaking the front and back wheels on the driver’s side and leaving the roadside attraction tilted at a 45 degree angle. The wagon cover was also ripped from its mountings and destroyed.

During a Tuesday evening meeting, the board of the Logan County Tourism Bureau awarded a $15,328.87 contract for repair work to Matthews Construction of Lincoln. Company owner Brad Matthews did some repair work on the wagon late last year.

Matthews’ contract stipulates that the wagon will be returned to an upright position no later than March 14 and that the repair work will be completed by April 30, in time for the 2014 tourist season.

The January storm damage triggered concern from the public, from the media and from Route 66 fans all along The Mother Road.

Among them was Bill Kelly, executive director of the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Association. Kelly offered $500 in grant money to help pay for any repairs not covered by the bureau’s insurance. The grant will cover the $500 deductible written into the $15,000 policy.

Marty Blitstein, an officer of the Route 66 Association of Illinois, also offered “whatever you need in the way of help,” on behalf of the association.

David Bentley of Pawnee originally built the wagon as a project during recovery from a heart attack. He called soon after the storm to offer his assistance in rebuilding the wagon. Bentley will work with Matthews as a project consultant.

Their work will include removing the 350-pound fiberglass statue of Abraham Lincoln from the driver’s seat and repainting it.

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While still in Bentley’s possession, the wagon was recognized as The World’s Largest Covered Wagon by Guinness Book of World Records. Bentley has already rebuilt it once after it was damaged by a tornado that went through the Pawnee area.

When Bentley decided to sell his creation, it was purchased by the Logan County Tourism Bureau with funds donated by Lincoln philanthropist Larry Van Bibber. The huge wagon arrived in Lincoln in January 2007, and was first displayed on the corner of Woodlawn Road and Lincoln Parkway/Route 66 on property owned by Jim and Shelly Horn.

In 2010, the wagon was awarded the title of Best Roadside Attraction in the United States through a poll in Reader’s Digest. That same year, it was moved to its current location at 1750 Fifth St., in front of the Best Western Lincoln Inn on Route 66. In 2011, a Route 66 Scenic Byway Exhibit was also placed at the site.

When repairs are completed, the 5-ton wagon will face in a north/south position in an effort to reduce wind resistance and possible future wind damage.

The World’s Largest Covered Wagon was hand-built from oak wood. It stands 24 feet tall and is 12 feet wide and 40 feet long. The front wheels are 10 feet tall and the back wheels are 12 feet tall. The wagon weighs 5 tons. The Abraham Lincoln figure is made of fiberglass. It is 12 feet tall (seated) and weighs 350 pounds.

[Text from file received from Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County]

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