CLINTON - On a brisk March day 24 years ago, Mark Madson looked at the 1959 Chevy Fleetside pickup truck he had intended to restore as it was parked next to twin trees outside the Little Limestone Company. Then he look up into the branches of the tree.
"It was like a lightbulb went on. I looked at the truck and I looked at the tree," Madson recalled.
The idea to hoist the pickup truck 30 feet into the air and make a unique treehouse for his then 13-year-old son, Luke, turned into a spectacle that has brought a lot of curious looks from motorists who pass by it on Interstate 43, and a lot of national and international attention over the years.
The "Truck in the Tree" has been featured in several magazines, TV shows and even an independent film titled "Cheese Heads" over the years.
In a small way to observe the 24th anniversary of the creation of the Truck in the Tree, a small version of the truck and tree will be shown at a fundraiser for the Clinton Public Library set for 5:30 - 8:30 p.m. today at the Butterfly Club, 5246 County Road X. The scale model of the Truck in the Tree was created by Madson's girlfriend, Diana Zenner of Elkhorn.
The project of putting the truck in the tree required some preparation, Madson recalled. To make sure the tree would support the vehicle, and to ensure a balanced and secure truck nestled in the branches, the motor and transmission was removed. Brackets also were put in the tree and on the truck so it could be fastened in tightly.
"It has sat up their through 60 mile per hour winds," Madson said.
He said he asked a friend who had a crane to help hoist the truck up into the tree and it only took about an hour to get it situated and locked down.
Over the years, the truck has needed periodic maintenance. He regularly washes it and waxes it to keep it presentable and to clean away the inevitable bird droppings. He uses a 60-foot man-lift to get up to the truck for cleaning.
In 1997, he took the truck out of the tree to repaint it. During this time, he temporarily placed a Dodge Charger painted to look like the General Lee featured in the TV show "The Dukes of Hazard" in the tree for about two months. The General Lee car would later be placed on the roof of the Boar's Nest tavern in Allens Grove.
This past summer, Madson did a total restoration on the truck.
The Truck in the Tree has been featured on "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as a top romantic parking place. It was featured on Jesse James' show "Monster Nation." And Larry the Cable Guy even hopped in the back of the truck when it was featured on his TV show, "Only In America."
There also have been curious passersby who wanted to know more about the Truck in the Tree over the years.
"We just had people from Germany who were here for BIFF (the Beloit International Film Festival). They had heard about the Truck in the Tree and I spent about three hours with them out here," Madson said.
Madson is known for some other unique vehicles. He created his Cadillac boat - a Cadillac convertible which doubles as a boat. He also has a 1978 Cadillac which he painted green and gold and turned it into his Packer-mobile, which he drove to the Super Bowl in 2011. That stunt earned him a title of Boldest Fan of Football from Guiness Beer and the Football Hall of Fame.
Madson said he likes these projects with vehicles and he continues to do them because he is just having fun.