By Becky Kiser
"This piece of art belongs to all of you and it's here for you to touch."
Hays native John T. Bird, 72, is sharing his love of trains alongside his interest in art with the entire community.
Bird recently purchased a 300-pound limestone locomotive carved from native Kansas post rock by renowned local sculptor Pete Felten, another Hays native.
Bird donated the sculpture to the city of Hays in a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday at the Downtown Hays Pavilion. The pavilion is located in Union Pacific Park, 10th and Main, next to the railroad tracks.
Felten left the stone's natural flaws and fossils intact. Bird loves the minor imperfections.
"He worked around the 200-million-year-old stone worn by the bodies of tiny little sea creatures that fell to the bottom of the Kansas sea and became stone," Bird told the crowd. "It's the same stone you see buildings around us built out of," including his own law office.
Bird said he happily watched many trains pass by his family farm when he was a boy.
Felten replicated features of a 1890s steam-powered locomotive in his hand-chiseled carving, pointing out the details as Bird considered its purchase.
"He told me how this part is where they put sand, so that when they went up an incline they could drop sand down on the rail and gain traction. This is where they put the water. This is the coal that they hauled across the prairie so they had the fuel to continue to go out to Colorado to pick up the next load.
"And behind it were the cars, he told me, that hauled probably the timber for the building that my law office is in now."
Bird knew he had to have the sculpture. He also knew he had to share it.
"This pavilion is a gathering place. Even in today's tough times, this is a place we can come.
"Visitors to our community will see this piece of art and they'll appreciate the fact that Hays, and the railroad, the people who live here, are all part of one big family.
Bird encourages visitors to touch the sculpture carved from ancient limestone.
"I hope this beautiful piece of art will continue to be here for people to look at and touch ... for another hundred million years," Bird said.
Felten, 87, continues carving and selling his limestone art. Many of his public sculptures can be found throughout Hays and in the Kansas state capitol building. His work is also in many private homes and businesses.
A modest man, Felten did not attend the dedication ceremony.
His close friend and fellow artist, Bruce Burkholder, spoke about Felten's creativity.
"Maybe for the new generation or people that don't want to pay any attention to it, maybe we can open our eyes to our history through this.
"Pete has graced me. He has graced the city through his fine work," Burkholder said.
The artwork sits at the northwest end of the pavilion.