World’s heaviest ball of twine has permanent home in Wisconsin

'Every day I am just having a ball': James Frank Kotera's twine ball grew to 24K pounds

James Frank Kotera stands next to his twine ball. Photo courtesy Terri Nelson

James Frank Kotera was a simple man. 

For many years, he worked five days a week at the landfill transfer station in Highland, a small town of 861 residents in northern Wisconsin. 

He’d spend most of the rest of his time at home, adding to his world record-holding 24,100-pound ball of twine.

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According to a biography of Kotera, divine intervention played a role in his unusual hobby. Once a heavy drinker, he was searching for a reason to stay sober. 

“That all changed when he had a conversation with God who encouraged him to stop drinking and turn to twine,” the biography said. 

He started weaving twine in and out of a ball in 1979 and he never looked back.

Kotera’s former neighbor, Terri Nelson, first met him in 1980 when she stopped to ask what he was doing.

“I just happened to be driving by and I saw him out in his yard, so I stopped there and asked him about it. And you know, I thought, ‘This guy’s crazy,’ but it was enough to get me to stop,” Nelson jokingly said.

Other visitors would often come to see his creation, which he kept in a shelter next to his home. The biography said Kotera, who was also known as “JFK,” liked to tell people, “Every day I am just having a ball.” 

Kotera’s former neighbor Terri Nelson stands next to the world’s heaviest twine ball. Photo courtesy Terri Nelson

Kotera’s sister, Rose Graves, said she’s proud he stuck with it for so long.  Residents of the area, including Nelson, would drop off twine for Kotera to use.

“He was a simple guy, kind. And everybody kind of took care of Jim,” Graves said about her brother. “The people of Highland became his family and I’m grateful for that.” 

Nelson said she and her husband would often stop over at Kotera’s home to show others the twine ball.

“Oh yeah, he was out there everyday,” Nelson said. “If he was in the house and he saw somebody come, he would come out of the house as quick as he could, because he would want to tell you about the twine ball.” 

Every time he got twine to add to the ball, he would weigh it before wrapping it on so he’d know its exact weight. 

Kotera also made another ball of string that weighed 47 pounds in honor of his birth year of 1947. He named that ball “Junior” and would often let people hold it while posing for photos.

Although other twine balls may hold different world records, Kotera holds the record of heaviest ball of twine made by one man. It stands at 10 feet high and 22 feet wide.

‘Labor of love’

Kotera died on Jan. 14, 2023 after spending 44 years working on the ball.  

“He was a very simple, happy-with-his-life man,” Nelson said about Kotera. “I think that’s what I liked about him, because he didn’t have anything fancy, but he was proud of what he had and he was proud of what he did.” 

Volunteers use a tow truck to lift the twine ball onto a trailer. Photo courtesy Terri Nelson

In honor of his life, his former workplace was renamed the “JFK Transfer Station.” But Nelson wanted to do something else to honor his memory, so she decided to start an online fundraiser to help move the ball of twine to a new permanent home.

It was a labor of love.

“It’s just something I felt I had to do,” Nelson said. 

After starting the GoFundMe, Nelson was encouraged to see the donations pour in. It’s raised over $6,000 so far.

“Visited JFK and the twine ball in 2007 from Pennsylvania. He was so kind, showed us his technique, and shared information cards he had written that I treasure,” one person wrote on the GoFundMe page. 

“I’ve seen the ball of twine myself, and it was a labor of love for him. Hope you guys find a good home for it,” another person wrote. 

After months of planning, the ball was lifted with a tow truck onto a trailer and then drove to its new home next to the Highland Town Hall and the JFK Transfer Station. 

Volunteers help build a shelter around the world’s heaviest twine ball in Highland, Wis. Photo courtesy Terri Nelson

After it got there, volunteers put it on a concrete slab and built a shelter over it. In late February, Nelson and a small group of people held a dedication ceremony.

“It was a relief to see that it was finally done, it’s finally covered, it’s finally got the tarp off it so people can see it again and people have already been coming,” Nelson said.

“He put the town on the map,” she added. “There’s not much else here so people know Highland by, ‘Oh that’s where the twine ball is,’ cause everybody seems to have seen it somewhere.” 

There’s a notebook for people to sign their names and where they’re from when they visit — similar to what Kotera had at his home. There’s also photos of Kotera and information about his life on a wall behind the ball.

Graves said she plans to go to the site every week. For her, it’s a reminder of her brother’s legacy. 

“Jim would be so thrilled and happy,” Graves said about the new shelter. “I think that he would be glad now that people will have the opportunity to continue to come and look at it, even though it won’t grow anymore.”