The strange metal critters and wind sculptures that grace Bill Swets lawn attract nearly 20,000 people each year to gawk at the Swetsville Zoo in Timnath, Colo.
Swets, who was raised here in the clapboard farmhouse on the grounds, didnt start out to become the famous curator of the unusual zoo in the town of 230 people. He married his high school sweetheart, Sandy, then carried on his familys dairy operation and did row cropping for local farms. He also worked as a volunteer firefighter for 22 years.
Id come home at 2 a.m. after pulling a guy out of wreck and couldnt sleep, so Id go out to my shop and work, Swets says.
Swets, who has never taken an art or welding lesson, copied a bird ornament on a friends lawn for his first sculpture in 1985. For the next decade, he churned out more than 15 pieces a year. Buddies donate discarded parts, and Swets dips into his own junk pile for material for the whimsical beasts, which may start life as a Chevy shock absorber or the gathering chain on a corn cutter.
Take my third Big Bird here, says Swets, who fashions his creations on a lathe built in 1885 and a 1930s copper welder. The main body is a truck rear axle. The lower legs are control arms off a Chevy pickup. The claws are teeth from a backhoe. The teeth are hay mower guards, and the nose is two specialty shoes off a corn planter.
Hes a very talented man, says Elsie Fisher, a second-generation Timnath resident who admires Swets work.
Where does Swets inspiration come from?
Books, kids toys, and comic strips, says the 58-year-old man with the spirit of a 6-year-old. Sometimes I just see a piece of steel with a certain shape that is kind of talking to me.
From birds Swets branched out to dragons. The Chinese twins, Yin and Yang, guard the entrance to the zoo, and Puff, a two-headed winged dragon, overlooks the Poudre River. Swets sculpts spaceships, robots, aliens, insects, and zoo animals, but dinosaurs are his specialty. The largest, Ali Senior, a 20-foot-tall, one-ton Allosaurus, was built in sections over two months.
Swets constructed Tannerasaurus and Kylesaurus in honor of his two grandsons, Tanner and Kyle.
Bills work can be quite comical, says Lani Andrews, a fellow artist who exhibits her metal art at the Chrome Rose Studio in the Swetsville Zoo.
Sculptures reflecting this humor include a three-piece band of long-legged alligators performing with a drum and banjo.
They play this new music, Swets says. Heavy metal junk.
And every work of art bears the familys XS bar brand on the left hip.
Visitors from as far away as Russia started flocking to the farm after Swets set up sculptures in the front yard and placed Steward the dragon alongside Harmony Road. Swets doesnt advertise or charge, but donations are welcome.
He has brought a lot of smiles to peoples faces and a sense of pride in this community, says neighbor and friend Russ Skinner, owner of the Main Street Gallery.
Although Swet has never applied to an art show, local shows routinely request his work. The Poudre Valley Art Show once asked for a piece, and the Swetgater he displayed placed first in the four-state competition.
The ex-dairy farmer regularly turns down offers to buy his work, although several are on permanent loan to the communities of Loveland and Fort Collins, Colo.
Its making people happy, not making money from his art that interests Swets.
This is my hobby, not my business, Swets says.