This Family Puts Up 500 Scarecrows Every Autumn, And It’s Amazing

These are real pieces of art.

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Many farms sprout a few scarecrows in the autumn. But Remlinger Farms, located in Carnation, Washington, boasts more than 500 of these greeters at its Fall Harvest Pumpkin Festival.

They beckon from the highway, welcome visitors to the farm, and point out parking as well as the farm store, restaurant and bathrooms. Scarecrows drive vintage tractors and wagons, hang by their knees from trees and operate antique trucks, plows, fire engines—even an old grindstone.

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Billie and Jim Nelson, with 20 years of experience, create and deploy this happy-go-lucky fall workforce. Billie took over from the original scarecrow artist in the 1990s and enlisted the help of her husband, Jim. “Jim is the artist,” says Billie, an employee at the farm for more than 30 years. “He paints all of their faces.”

Each year when the leaves begin to change and nights get cooler, Billie and Jim open the scarecrow dormitory above the machine shop and assess the health of the old hands. They revive stuffing and clothing and create new characters.

The couple attempts to make each scarecrow unique. Over the years, Jim developed several expressions, from grinning grown-ups to smiling toddlers, but you also will notice an occasional grimace, angry frown or wistful face. After all, the life of a scarecrow isn’t all fun and games. Before next autumn, know why leaves change color!

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Once Jim finishes creating a face on the cloth head Billie has sewn, Billie begins securing buttons and zippers and sews raffia to pant legs and sleeves. She stuffs the bodies with plastic bags, which hold up better than traditional straw in the wet Washington weather. Before the farm opens for the season, Billie and Jim transfer loads of scarecrows from the loft to the bed of their truck, then spend days displaying the stuffed workforce all over the 200-acre farm and surrounding rural roads. Visitors say scarecrows thumbing rides, sitting on fences and maneuvering old bicycles are what draw them to the farm.

As with all scarecrows, garments are secondhand. But they’re not just Goodwill bargains. Billie uses many clothes that once belonged to the farm staff. Walk about the grounds with supervisors or park managers, and they’ll point out a shirt and pair of pants worn by their toddler son or a cheerleader outfit that they wore in high school.

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Bonnie Remlinger and daughter Diane, who handles the day-to-day operation of the farm along with her husband, Will, are not spared the dubious distinction of having scarecrows model their old blouses and sweaters. Jeans, baseball caps and team jackets can be traced to Gary Remlinger, Bonnie’s husband and a second-generation farm owner.

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Billie herself joins the scarecrow legion during the fall festival. She puts on designer duds with fancy patches and Minnie Pearl-worthy straw hats. She and other guides point out the actual scarecrows lounging on fences and note: “My relatives—who just hang around while I work.”

The Nelsons love watching farm visitors laugh at the scarecrows. When asked if she’s ever been tired of scarecrowing, Billie says, “I’m here because I enjoy it.”

It’s fun to imagine that on some moonlit autumn nights, those 500 scarecrows hop down from their perches to hold a fall festival of their own. With all the character the Nelsons have given them, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Originally Published in Farm & Ranch Living

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