Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan
A Town Declares It’s Still Here
I want to claim that spontaneity explains my exit off I-380 and stop in Brandon, Iowa. That prompted by a plywood billboard breaking the roadside monotony, I just stopped when alerted by the sign about the close proximity of Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan. But, my stop was not spontaneous in any way. Over the last five years I’ve driven past the frying pan sign dozens of times in snow, rain, and blazing heat on the way to my sister’s home. It acts as a landmark of 20 or so minutes I left to drive before reaching my final destination. But, finally, after half a decade I did stop.
When driving into town a sign announces, “A little town we’re proud to call home” with the image of a cast iron frying pan on an orange background. Except for the visual, the welcome sign in Brandon does not mention the frying pan. If I we’re just a wandering traveler unaware that I had found the home of Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan, it might strike me as an even odder mascot than it already is. Then again I might be considered the odd sight if ambling into Brandon without purpose. The reasons to stop in this Iowa town seem to fall into three categories: 1) residence, 2) visiting family residing in Brandon, or 3) the pull of Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan.
It’s a lot like other Midwestern small towns. It is a pleasant enough place with curb-less and mostly asphalt streets, a population of a couple hundred, and a local economy driven on the whole by agriculture. According to the local community club website, the bulk of citizens commute to out of town jobs. On the early Thursday afternoon I drove through town, I saw only two people: one man filling his truck up with gas and one woman driving a mid-90s Buick LaSabre. Both waved. I saw no one else howbeit some older well-kept houses west of the pan indicated there was more life as did the newer homes built in Boyer’s First Addition, a subdivision of a half dozen or so houses located directly east behind the frying pan.
To find Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan, you must drive from one end of town to the other when entering Brandon from the Interstate. You see it with its handle cocked up and to the right in a once graveled parking lot as soon as the east edge of town is reached. This oddity of Iowa sits next to a steel pole building with a maroon roof with a sign reading Brandon Area Community Center. An aluminum letter board between the pan and community center advertised a fish fry from the week prior. I visited toward the end of March and yet a Happy Holidays light sign still hung from its handle. The word “happy” in green nestled next to a yellow bell sitting atop the word “holidays” in red. To hang the sign an orange extension cord noosed around and through a hole in the handle. The orange cord plugged into another white extension cord, where at the union of the two it sagged to droop in front of the frying pan’s face. This is where you find the thick white letters spelling out BRANDON in all capitals. It’s printed to follow the curve of the pan with IOWA printed below on a second line.
To make bulletin boards two pieces of plywood have each been cut at a smaller scale in the same shape of the frying pan, painted black, and mounted on posts to the right of the actual frying pan. A staple gun was used to hang pieces of laminated paper on them. Small rusty halos appear where the prongs punched through. The wrinkled and smudged signs are only partially readable. They advertise the history of the Community Center, background of the frying pan, and list the hometown of some visitors. Represented are nearly all the states along with Finland, South Africa, Nepal, and many other far away places. I wondered how the hometown information was gathered. Did people leave notes in the donations box? Was there once a guestbook? I figured one guestbook too many might have been ruined by Iowa’s weather or by the late night antics of teenagers.
The frying pan shaped bulletin boards inform of the pan’s creation in 2000 for the bi-annual Cowboy Breakfast— a fundraiser for the Community Center. This made me picture the parking lot full and people chatting over heaping plates of pancakes on picnic tables. The weathered signs note 311 people live in Brandon, over 50 people helped to make the pan, and that in 2004 the Cowboy Breakfast served an impressive 1,357 people in one morning. The sincerity of the signs and their efforts in creating the strange attraction made me miss my own small hometown. Even with the untimely holiday sign dangling from the handle and the haphazard signage, Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan marks the attempt of one overlooked small town to have a voice. It is a peculiar and heartfelt effort to declare: We are here. We have done things. We are doing things. We exist. We will not be forgotten.