All Over The Map: A half-dozen half-baked facts about the iconic giant Winlock Egg
Unique roadside artifacts are a decades-old method for a community or neighborhood to distinguish itself. Around Seattle, many examples come to mind, including the Pink Toe Truck that used to be parked at the old Lincoln Towing on Mercer Street, the Elephant Car Wash neon sign on Denny Way, and the Twin Teepees restaurant along Aurora Avenue North at Green Lake.
Those artifacts are all gone, of course, but 100 miles south of the city and a few miles west of I-5, a giant egg – which this week turned 98 years old – endures in Winlock.
Winlock is in Lewis County, not far from Chehalis. The town was founded in the 1870s and named for Territorial Surveyor General Winlock W. Miller, a contemporary of Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens. Winlock became the center of a busy egg and poultry producing region and home to Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association beginning around the turn of the 20th century, and community leaders were skilled at attracting attention and generating positive media coverage.
For instance, when word came that President Warren G. Harding would be making a summertime visit to the Pacific Northwest, the Tacoma News Tribune of May 12, 1923, reported that Winlock leaders sent a telegram to President Harding inviting him to stop by:
“Winlock, the great egg-producing center of the Pacific Northwest invites you to stop off a few minutes to show you how the hundreds and thousands of White Leghorns here, confined in laying pens, are converted to egg-laying machines.”
That July, Harding rolled right past Winlock aboard his special train; he had already taken ill and would, a few days later, pass away in San Francisco.
In honor of the Winlock Egg’s birthday – and those long-ago Winlockians who made it happen, and made sure the media knew all about it – here are a half-dozen, half-baked facts.
The original “big white egg” was part of a parade float – it was stuck on the back of a big truck with a sign that said, “Winlock, home of the white leghorn.”
The parade was actually a caravan of hundreds of vehicles that drove from Olympia to Salem, Oregon, on Oct. 25, 1923 – 98 years ago this week – marking the official opening of what was then called the Pacific Highway. The road was described at the time as “700 miles of pavement from British Columbia to Northern California,” and it later became US 99, many parts of which still exist.
The caravan consisted of 176 cars when it headed south from Olympia. By the time it reached Vancouver, Washington, the number had increased to 355. The itinerary included a stop on the 1917 Columbia River Bridge – still in service 104 years later – and speeches by Washington’s Governor Louis F. Hart and Oregon Governor Walter M. Pierce. Also part of the festivities was the hanging, in effigy, of a mannequin named “Old Man Detour.”
Winlock was not located on the Pacific Highway. So, after the caravan was over, the big egg was put on display on a big base alongside the busy mainline railroad tracks.
The idea for the big egg is attributed to John C. Lawrence, manager of the Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association, which was based in Winlock. In a speech a full eight months before the parade, Lawrence referred to Winlock as “home of the big white egg” – likely meaning the large but entirely edible eggs Winlock was already then widely known for.
A century ago, Winlock was apparently big on celebrating new highways.
Two years before the big egg was hatched, townsfolk organized their first “Poultry and Egg Day” celebration on Saturday, Aug. 13, 1921, to mark completion of the paving of a road connecting Winlock to Cowlitz and Toledo. A newspaper account at the time said, “Governor Louis F. Hart was invited to speak but has expressed his inability to attend.”
Egg Day has been celebrated almost every year since, and the event marked its centennial this past summer.
The original 1923 parade float egg was made of wood with canvas stretched over it. Those materials apparently didn’t last long out in the weather, and accounts vary about what the more permanent later eggs were made from. Some old newspaper articles say an entirely new egg was made of tin, and others say that original old canvas egg was beefed up with concrete and plaster.
In November 1925, The Tacoma Daily Ledger described the Winlock landmark this way:
The egg is 12 feet in length, 8 feet in its largest diameter, and is covered with an outer coating of shell cement painted white. It represents the ideal egg, the length being 1 1/2 times its largest diameter, the surface curving at every point. The framework on which the shell was formed weighed 500 pounds and the material in the shell 1,500 pounds, a total weight of 2,000 pounds.
Around the end of World War II, the old egg was renovated, or, perhaps for the second time, an entirely new egg may have been created. As Winlock historian C.C. Wall wrote in 1952: “In 1944, when Johnny Simpson’s Plastic Company came to town, they made it over with this plastic material, which has stood up pretty well.”
On an otherwise quiet Saturday night in Winlock in July 1958, the 1944 edition of the egg fell off its platform and, according to the Longview Daily News, “crashed to the ground in a heap of rubble.” After almost 35 years, Winlock was suddenly without its iconic symbol, and a rotted base was blamed.
The Winlock Lions Club had planned to rebuild the base earlier that year, but had decided to put off the work until after that year’s Egg Day celebration.
Despite the Lions Club’s best intentions to replace it much sooner, the Winlock egg was absent for nearly seven years. The new one was installed in May 1965, a half block north of where the original had stood. It was made from fiberglass, measuring 15 feet long and 7 feet high. It weighed 1,200 pounds and was mounted on a steel post alongside the railroad tracks. The Winlock Garden Club and Jaycees landscaped the area and installed a fence and lighting to create a small park.
Another West Coast city that claimed “egg capital” status in the 1920s was Petaluma, California – where they called themselves “the world’s egg basket.” In Petaluma, a farmer built a statue of a giant hen – also originally for a parade, but in 1918, a full five years before Winlock’s giant egg.
Petaluma’s chicken statue was named Betty, and a 1922 newspaper article described her as “12 feet high, snowy white, erect and proud of her triumph.”
“She stands resplendent at the Petaluma railroad station,” the article added.
Unlike Winlock’s egg, Petaluma’s Betty only lasted about 20 years, until Oct. 27, 1938 – or 83 years ago this past Wednesday. Late that evening, somebody dynamited poor old Betty and blew her to smithereens. Local students were suspected, but no charges were ever filed.
This actual quote from the front page of the Petaluma Argus Courier the next day might be one of the most unintentionally funny lines ever printed:
The blast startled customers at [a restaurant called] ‘The Colony’ situated about 500 yards south of the ‘former chicken.’ Tony Mitchell, one of the proprietors, said that the entire building shook as if there had been an earthquake. Ben Glazier, who lives nearly a mile from the scene, reported that ‘windows and dishes in his home rattled’ and ‘it seemed as though the walls would fall in.’
Winlock may no longer be the egg and poultry capital of the Northwest, as the business has changed somewhat and moved beyond the co-op model and the Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association that made Winlock famous. However, as of 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says Lewis County is still number one among the Evergreen State’s 39 counties for total egg production, and ranks number 244th among counties nationally.
The big white egg does require regular cleaning and maintenance, and occasional repainting, which the Lions Club has been responsible for many years. Along with eggshell white, the monument to poultry production has been painted a few times over the years with special designs, including the American flag after 9/11, and the Seahawks logo during the team’s Super Bowl seasons in the mid-2010s.
Fortunately, Winlock’s roadside icon has never been treated quite as brutally Petaluma’s Betty the hen, requiring no Northwest journalist to ever invoke the tragic phrase, “former egg.”
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.