The southbound highway out of Baraboo, Wisconsin, passes Delaney’s Surplus and then, in rapid succession, a fifteen-foot radiator penetrated by a giant key, a twenty-foot iron heart with a ray gun protruding from it, and a giant scrap metal chicken with plumage partially constructed from brass doorknobs. A dirt road hairpins from out of this incongruous display, parallels the highway, rolls past a giant scrap metal moth, and approaches a wooden fence that opens to reveal a one-hundred-foot long, four-story,-four-hundred-ton scrap metal collage topped by ray guns, a telescope, a viewing platform for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and a giant glass ball shrouded in a copper egg.
The hand-painted sign announces “Guineness [sic] Book of Records … World’s Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture ‘The Forevertron,’” but the owner of the sign and the Forevertron—takes exception to the description. “The art idea, that’s a judgment thing that some people have made up,” grumbles prickly Dr. Evermor, 67, at his table in the Blue Spoon Creamery Cafe in nearby downtown Prairie du Sac. “To begin with, the Forevertron’s purpose is to perpetuate me into heaven in a glass ball inside a copper egg on a magnetic lightning force beam.” He pauses, eyes flashing beneath arched, bushy eyebrows, offers a half smile, takes a deep breath that fills his imposing frame, and glances at elegant Lady Eleanor (also known as Eleanor Every), his companion of more than forty years, who sits beside him. Suddenly, the bluster of Evermor slips into the soft sigh of Tom Every, career scrap metal man. “Actually, the reason for that device is that I don’t like lawyers or politicians or that like,” he adds. “I’m from the scrap world, where people are honorable.”
Despite first impressions, Dr. Evermor and the Forevertron (located in a just-renovated “Historical Artistic Memorial Metal Sculpture Park” beside Delaney’s Surplus) are more than Midwestern roadside curiosities. Major museums, including, recently, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, have organized visiting delegations; academics, critics, and curators have written treatises exploring the meaning of the Forevertron, its inventor, and its aesthetics. Yet Every, who has even had the recent honor of addressing an academic conference, isn’t impressed. “I’ve got a bunch of college professors making a bunch of money running all over the U.S. talking about the philosophy of Doctor Evermor,” he says with a deep, open-mouth laugh. “What a bunch of shit! I’m just a small-time scrap guy from Wisconsin who used to drive a Ford truck.”
Born in 1938 and raised in the central Wisconsin town of Brooklyn, Every started collecting rags and newspapers with the Cub Scouts when he was eleven. Soon he struck out on his own and expanded his scrounging to include scrap iron, used tires, and anything that seemed remotely salvageable. “People always ask Dr. Evermor where he got his Ph.D.,” Every says. “And I tell them the School of Hard Knocks and the Jewish School of Technology.” While earning those degrees, he ran a highly successful demolition business that completed more than “three hundred and fifty major wrecking jobs.”
Despite financial success, in his early thirties Every began to feel restless. “I was getting a little tired of having nothing to show for what I did,” he recalls. “You know, you move a pile of scrap and then it’s gone.” He was still a long way from becoming Dr. Evermor, but he began to look at his demolitions in a different way. “When I was wrecking something, I’d start to look at is as something else. I’d ask, ‘What’s it good for?’”
In 1983, under the influence of the Dr. Who craze and pesky politicians, Every developed a back story about a 19th century inventor named Dr. Evermor who builds a machine to launch himself into the heavens. Utilizing a large collection of 19th century industrial cast-offs, he built the Forevertron to appear as if it were constructed in the 1890s. “I love the old machines,” Every explains. “They often have artistic integrity, so I saved them.” Every’s collection of 19th century machinery, as preserved in the Forevertron, is so complete that it has served as a classroom for industrial history and design students. Space buffs also have taken an interest in the Forevertron: A decontamination chamber from the Apollo moon missions is a major component. “It’s best not to go into how I got that thing,” Every concedes.
Every still has plans to attach another “couple tons” of metal and “the fiber optics” to the Forevertron. More dauntingly, he is determined to relocate the entire machine, all 400 tons of it, across the highway to the boiler room of the abandoned Badger Army Ammunition Plant. “I mean, there are people who come here, hold hands, dance jigs around it. They think it’s the mother egg! And who knows? Maybe it is!” he exclaims. “But that’s the point. What the hell is it?”—Adam Minter