World’s largest pelican takes flight from his perch

After makeover, famous fowl will be returned to new nest on opposite side of river

…For Pete’s Sake

Pelican Pete, in a custom-designed cradle, hangs from a 150-foot crane as he is lifted from his platform at the Pelican River damsite Jan. 4.

 by Louis Hoglund

Pelican Pete’s big adventure is underway—just in time for his 65th birthday. 

So far, he’s survived all the excitement. 

The famous big bird of Pelican Rapids hasn’t budged a millimeter since he was perched on the north side of the Pelican River—in the last millennium. 

Pelican Pete was “born,” more or less in 1957, at the Anton and Ted Resset blacksmith shop. The late plaster man Alvin Anderson plastered and painted the giant bird into its final shape. 

Similarly-skilled tradesmen from ICS Construction had the nerve-wracking task of unleashing Pelican Pete from his perch, and lifting him with a 150-foot crane.

Crews were a little nervous about the undertaking. Pete isn’t in the best shape, with some of the brittle plaster surfaces cracked and broken. The steel frame beneath Pete’s exterior is believed to be rusted, and potentially fragile.

Plus—Pelican Pete is historic. The state of Minnesota preservation agency has been in the background, ensuring that the historical integrity of Pete is retained. 

The Pelican Pete statue was lifted from his riverside perch to a flatbed truck, where his feet were welded to a custom-made platform. Pete and the platform were carefully moved to a site north of St. Leonards church, where he is fenced in and secured. He will be renovated, re-plastered, and painted off-site, and returned to the south side of the river after his makeover.
The crew from ICS (Industrial Contract Services) prepares Pelican Pete on his platform, with a cradle that would attach to a 150-foot crane.

“This is the most unusual thing I’ve ever moved,” said Dave Hatlan, project supervisor, and one of the four-member crew from ICS. He recalled an intense project—lifting a 280,000-pound boiler in North Dakota. “We’ve done a lot of big, big stuff—but nothing quite like this.”

“One for the scrapbooks, is how the pelican relocation was described by Gary Beeter, a vice president with ICS (Industrial Contract Services). ICS won the bid to remove Pete to make way for dam demolition, at about $73,000. The city will be reimbursed by the DNR. Moving Pete back to a new platform, on the opposite side of the river, will be up for bid sometime this spring—and ICS may be back to help Pete “migrate” to his new home. 

But—first, the big bird needs to be renovated. Re-plastering and firming up Pete is specialized work, and as yet, the city has not firmed up a contractor. The renovation of Pete will be at the city’s cost. 


 “Getting Pete away safely was a big milestone,” said Wes Keller, of Houston Engineering, the firm that has orchestrated the massive Pelican River restoration, including dam removal and upstream dredging. In total, the project will exceed $2.5 million. 

The spectacle of the big bird’s move drew crowds—many of them equally nervous if Pelican Pete would survive the flight.

A few of the spectators who watched the progress of Pelican Pete’s move, throughout the day Jan. 4.

Dozens of folks observed at various times of the day, Jan. 4, during the meticulous moving process. 

Holding her breath was Annie Wrigg, who had her doubts Pete would survive the trek. 

Spectators stopped along the downtown business district, as well as the riverside and the nearby Post Office, to observe the complicated maneuvers.

“This is history!” exclaimed Pelican Viking Elementary Teacher Jon Moe, who hiked five blocks with his students to observe the preparation for Pete’s move. Creating a “cradle” of bands and chains to safely lift the bird with an immense crane was a science and engineering lesson in itself. 

Pete is 15.5 feet tall. This prompted one of the Pelican sixth graders to conclude: Pelican Pete could perch at the deep end of the Pelican city swim pool—and keep his head above water. 

Complicated, and a bit tense, the project was made easier thanks to local support, commented ICS foreman Hatlan, whose colleagues included David Heden and Wayne Hildendager. “I’ve never moved a pelican before,” laughed Heden. “But I’ve seen them in the wild!”

“The town has been amazing,” said Hatlan. City workers were on standby to help. Bradrick and Sons cleared snow from the entire platform area where Pete will be temporarily perched. Midwest Tree cleared branches to make room for Pete; and Arvig telephone crews took down overhead lines to allow Pete’s passage. 

Pelican Pete is pictured here, carefully and slowly towed past St. Leonard Church in Pelican Rapids.
“Well, it looks like he’s going to make it,” said spectator Harold Holt, watching the big bird as it moved very slowly to protect the precious cargo. “But I’d hate to be the driver of that truck.”

A Detroit Lakes native with relatives in Otter Tail County, ICS’s Hatlan took a special interest in the project. He figures he was about age 5 when he first visited Pelican Pete as a youngster.   

“The people that were watching the move were thankful Pete did not fall apart,” said Wayne Runningen, former Pelican mayor and local historian, who parked his car for a front-row seat for most of the moving activity. “There were also a lot of comments from people about all the memories they had spending time down by the Pelican, waterfalls, and the mill pond. I think people are still processing it not being there any longer.” 

Annette Silvis sent a message to the Press, noting that her relatives, the Ressets, were the original people that built the Pelican. “I was still in high school when they were doing this. How exciting that the Pelican is now a historic item and will be refurbished,” she wrote.