A Water Tower Memorializes an Iconic Story in Children's Literature and Popular Culture

A Kansas community honors its Wizard of Oz connections with a newly finished water tower that portrays the wizard’s balloon.

A Water Tower Memorializes an Iconic Story in Children's Literature and Popular Culture

West Palm Beach, Florida

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“Come, Dorothy!” cried the Wizard. “Hurry up, or the balloon will fly away.”

That memorable line, one of many from the venerable story The Wizard of Oz, typifies the theme of the elevated water tank in the City of Wamego, Kansas, winner of the Tnemec’s 2019 Tank of the Year contest.

Eight bright colors and what appear to be panels sewn together transform the 500,000-gallon tank into the wizard’s hot air balloon. The tank also won Tnemec’s People’s Choice award for getting the most votes cast by the public on the company’s website. The People’s Choice is considered along with 11 committee-chosen water tanks for the Tank of the Year crown.

“That’s the first time a tank has won both awards since we began the contest 14 years ago,” says Mark Thomas, vice president of marketing for Tnemec. 

Calendar winners

In 2019, more than 300 tanks from all over the U.S. and Canada were entered in the contest. Wamego gathered 4,237 votes; Maxville, Ontario, came in second with 4,194 of nearly 20,000 total votes received. Each year, a photograph of the Tank of the Year appears on the January page of Tnemec’s calendar. The others appear on the remaining months’ pages. Communities represented besides the top two are:

West Palm Beach, Florida

Campbell, Missouri

Columbus, Ohio

Farmers Branch, Texas

Camden, Alabama

Clinton, Mississippi

Sammamish, Washington

Apple Valley, California

Pensacola Beach, Florida

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

The inspiration for Wamego’s tank was the city’s strong identity with the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, says Thaniel Monaco, engineer for BG Consultants, who created the graphic design. Wamego is home to a variety of Oz-themed establishments, including the OZ Museum, which has the world’s largest public display of Oz artifacts. They include more than 2,000 items from the movie and the original book series by L. Frank Baum.

A yellow brick road meanders through downtown Wamego, leading to a restaurant named Toto’s TacOZ and to the Oz Winery. An annual celebration, OZtoberFest, includes an Oz costume contest, a Toto look-alike contest, and an indoor/outdoor OZ Market that includes Auntie Em’s Boutique.

Other Oz attractions include Wizard’s Beer and Wine Garden, Professor Marvel’s Backyard BBQ Cook-Off, and Munchkinland.

Community pride

The water tank was originally constructed in 2015 and painted with Tnemec’s Series 700 white. City leaders wanted to create a noteworthy design. Longtime city commissioner Bill Ditto says the bright colors and design on the newly finished water tower reflect community pride in its attractions. “The tower is one of the first things people see when coming into town, and the bowl seems to rise right out of the middle of the highway, like a hot air balloon,” Ditto says.

The single-pedestal tank’s balloon design was painted in 2019 by Classic Protective Coatings of Menomonie, Wisconsin. After pressure washing, a Tnemec fluoropolymer finish coat — Series 700 HydroFlon — was applied with rollers, sprayers and brushes. After extensive planning, the coating took five weeks and was finished in June.

Monaco says the biggest challenge was scaling and transferring the images of the design onto the contours of the tank from two-dimensional templates that were laid on the ground.

“The tank is much like an attractive billboard and helps direct people to this beloved Kansas town and all of its attractions,” Ditto says.  


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