SPARTA, Wis. — A cement-cow lawn ornament was once iconic in the front yards of Wisconsin dairy farms, frequently accompanied by a farm sign.
When farmers retired and moved in town, they frequently took their cement cows with them to restore them to their rightful spots on front lawns.
FAST Corporation of Sparta has taken cow statues – and three-dimensional likenesses of everything else for that matter – to an entirely new level. Exhibiting at the 2017 Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin’s business conference in Madison, Wisconsin, FAST’s herd of life-size and over-sized cows drew lots of attention — as its colorful true-to-life animals and whimsical critters do wherever they happen to be.
FAST stands for “Fiberglass Animals, Shapes and Trademarks.” The Monroe County, Wisconsin, company makes fiberglass statues, roadside attractions, themed water slides and larger-than-life creations of all kinds, including apples, pumpkins, a 30-foot eyeball, pheasants, flamingoes, spiders and jack rabbits wearing saddles. If somebody somewhere can name it, they’ll make it.
“They’re all individually painted,” said Darren Schauf, FAST’s general manager and vice-president.
Schauf grew up working on a farm in the family that his cousin runs now; he wanted to be a farmer. But he has worked for FAST 10 years now, one of about 20 employees.
FAST Corporation had its beginning in the late 1960s or early 1970s and for many years was a work in progress. In 1978, then operating as Creative Display, the business completed its revered 145-foot-long musky at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin.
In 1983, Jerome Vettrus incorporated the company under its present name and moved it in the direction of producing themed water slides. Vettrus sold it to his buddy James Schauf – Darren Schauf’s father – in 2000. Whether it’s as outrageous as a 15-foot golf ball perched on a tee or a 14-foot-tall pineapple, or as somberly patriotic as a trio of almost-7-foot Vietnam solders in combat gear, FAST’s creations are eye-catching and typically colossal. The largest creation FAST has built is a pair of eagles with 300-foot wingspans that perch on tribal buildings at Red Lake, Minnesota.
Cows are a mainstay, Schauf said.
“It’s the dairy state,” he said. “Holstein cows were a natural.”
FAST’s dairy herd includes cows that are 3, 10 and 14 feet tall. The firm makes a life-size cow, a reclining cow that’s a bench and a dairy calf. A life-size cow weighs 125 pounds and generally takes six weeks from order to delivery on the farm. A cow can be custom-painted at a farmer’s request, to reflect a family’s favorite herd member.
“We can make any breed,” Schauf said. “We use paint to distinguish breed. I know there are some structural differences in the Brown Swiss.
“They’re very durable. They’ve stood weather conditions for decades. In fact somebody hit the beef steer at the restaurant on Silver Lake at Wautoma (Wisconsin). His leg was broken. I bet he was well over 50 years old. We put him back together, and he looks fine. The vehicle didn’t look too good.”
FAST produced all of the Amazing Grazing Cows displayed at businesses and on the streets of Thorp, Wisconsin. There are at least two dozen. The city provides visitors with a checklist and map so they can see them all.
Schauf said FAST is partnering with a New Hampshire firm for “The Incredible Milking Cow.” FAST produces the shell. Marquis Enterprises turns that into an interactive cow that teaches the art of hands-on milking by adding electrical components, a self-contained pump that delivers constant fluid to the udder, and mooing sound effects. The Incredible Milking Cow, which comes in two sizes, also talks, providing educational facts about her real-life herdmates.
“You plug it in and basically forget about it,” Schauf said of the educational bovine.
In Wisconsin, Incredible Milking Cows are at the Children’s Museum in Eau Claire, Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in Kewaunee, Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp and Green Meadows Farm in East Troy to mention just a few.
FAST has also beef bulls and steers, from Hereford to Brahma, and Black Angus to Scotch Highland. The company’s colorful catalog includes pages of other farm animals including pigs, a sheep, a goat, horses, a 7-foot rooster, dogs and more.
There are pages of water slides and other pool features, school mascots, national brands and trademarks like an 8-foot A&W Bear and a 9-foot bottle of Tabasco. There are characters such as a Native American and trapper in a birch-bark canoe, an 11-foot lumberjack with a blue ox, a 6-foot Frankenstein head, a 30-foot Abe Lincoln, and pages of giant fish, food, birds and wild animals.
Schauf said his company has also made giant ice cream cones, big wedges of cheese, huge milk jugs and a 20-foot-long relief of dairy products.
Like running a farm, making roadside creations means doing something different every day, Schauf said.
“They put joy on people’s faces,” he said. “It’s not your typical product. I enjoy seeing how happy people are when they see our products.”
By: Jane Fyksen