While most people tried to escape the heat last week, Ken Cardwell was in the middle of it, dropping 600 gallons of paint on a Fairview Avenue field.
It’s one of the most difficult parts of creating the giant American flag, and this might be the last year Cardwell completes the task. The painted flag – which has become a Bowling Green icon over the past decade – might not be here next year.
Cardwell doesn’t think about the end of the project now “because I put in 30 hours and three days, and now I’m resting,” he said. “But next year, when it gets around July, I’ll miss it.”
After having the 548-foot-long flag painted on his property for the past 10 years, property owner Bob Burr says it’s time to hang up the paint brush.
“I’m going to miss the hell out of it. I’m not saying it’s in concrete, that I won’t do it again,” he said, adding that next year he might purchase a huge flag to fly from a pole at that spot. “I’m talking about the biggest flag money can buy.”
The monstrous flag – which is 300 feet wide with each stripe measuring 23 feet across and each star 19 feet from tip to tip – has garnered national media attention over the years and become a community staple.
The project started after Sept. 11, 2001, when a worker who was performing Burr’s yard work asked if he could cut the shape of a flag into Burr’s field. Burr gave him the thumbs up, and he was so impressed that he called Western Kentucky University to find someone to paint the yard flag.
That’s when someone suggested he call Cardwell, owner of K&B Striping in Bowling Green. Cardwell paints stripes on all WKU’s parking lots, and he decided to take on the flag challenge.
Burr reimburses Cardwell for his expenses, but Cardwell donates his time and labor. Not only is it a meaningful project, Cardwell said, it’s an enjoyable one.
“The best part is whenever I spray the last star,” he said. “I like the challenge and the excitement of doing it.”
Cardwell spent the past few days riding behind a motorized sprayer, holding an umbrella to protect him from the sun. It took more than a week to complete the project – Cardwell does the painting and others cut the grass into the shape of a flag.
Larry Haley, the project manager, set up a tent for workers and found himself going back and forth for water, he said.
“You’re out in that field, and that heat is beaming down on you,” said Haley, of Bowling Green.
Still, like the other workers, Haley says he thoroughly enjoys the project. Haley worked for Burr when he was asked to oversee the project.
“I will probably miss it,” he said. “It’s a lot of work involved in it, but it’s a tradition ... and it’s something to talk about.”
Over the years, Burr garnered paint donations and some national attention. One year, a Black Hawk helicopter landed on the flag, which drew a large crowd. It also has become an entertainment stop for people on July 4, with a cookout and fireworks.
And it has created some touching moments for Burr, who says he never dreamed it would become this well-known.
“World War II veterans will come out and ask if they can walk on the flag. We have a great visit and shed a tear or two,” Burr said. “Spiritually, it’s been one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done.”
When Burr recognized the potential of what was then a small yard design, he decided to expand the idea and give back to the community he has come to love. After all, July 4 has dual meanings for the Bowling Green resident.
Burr, who is retired from the oil business, moved to Bowling Green from California 22 years ago – on Independence Day. His family drove into Bowling Green on July 4.
The flag “has meant everything to me,” he said. “We take this country for granted. Our kids, they get to see the older generations love and respect our country.”