Giant statue welcomes riders to ‘Dragon’
By Wes Wade | (email@example.com)
It’s hard to miss — tucked off Calderwood Highway just before the nearly 13-mile stretch known as “The Dragon,” its 23-foot wingspan beckoning riders to the popular riding destination.
It’s a 21-foot tall wood-carved Norwegian Ridgeback dragon, of course, dwarfing anyone standing nearby at the Harley Davidson Outpost on Calderwood Highway.
After some time in storage in a Maryville barn, the giant statue has made its way to a much more appropriate locale. Bert Winfree, who owns a tent on the property for his business “Stitches on the Dragon,” recently bought the statue and said that he wanted others to be able to enjoy it as well.
Rescued from barn
Carved out of a single log of wood by Spring City resident James Swatzell, the statue was acquired by a friend of Winfree’s sometime last fall. Winfree said he was lucky enough to be the newest one to own the mammoth lizard. “I rescued him out of a horse barn,” Winfree said. “And he’s totally my enterprise ... he’s totally my pet.”
Named “Stitches the Magic Dragon,” after Winfree’s business selling stitchings, pins and leather work, the statue has already garnered the attention of many making a pit stop after its initial arrival Saturday afternoon. And that was the idea, he said. “I just wanted to get him out here so he could be enjoyed.”
At least a hundred people lined up to take photos with Stitches Saturday afternoon, including two Wisconsin residents who made a special Father’s Day outing down to East Tennessee for a ride on the Dragon.
George Oswald explained that he and his father, Jim, were just talking about what to do for Father’s Day when the idea of hitting the Dragon popped up.
“And 14 hours later we’re here,” George Oswald said.
After a Saturday ride, they stopped at the Harley Davidson Outpost on Calderwood Highway and couldn’t help but notice the statue, which weighs about a ton. Jim Oswald was equally impressed that it was all carved out of a single chunk of wood.
“Well that’s one stick,” Jim Oswald said. “One hell of a tree it had to come out of.”
Winfree said that Swatzell mentioned the log had been sitting in his yard for about a year before he figured out what to do with it. It then took him another year and nearly 200 hours of work to complete. And the detail is all there — hundreds of scales, a tail swinging four-and-a-half feet out of the center of its body, and metallic wings spanning 23 feet from tip to tip. In fact, Winfree said, the wings were designed to flex several feet in the wind.
“(Swatzell) definitely did some research,” Winfree said. “(He) did his homework before starting it.”
Winfree said the statue was even built to allow LED lighting to be ran into the dragon’s eyes. He plans to install red lights for eyes and later mount a smoke machine so Stiches is seen breathing smoke. There’s also been talk of adding blue lights to the tips of its wings to make its night presence even more incredible.
A bell from an old church on Calderwood Highway has also been brought to the site, and Winfree plans to set it up next to the statue so visitors can ring the bell when posing alongside his new pet. “My main thing is, he was just sitting and rotting in a hay barn,” Winfree said. “And I want the world to enjoy him. I know I’m going to.”