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Bison sculpture eased into Cody museum
Crews make the final preparations to the 5,000-pound sculpture before it's brought through the window and lowered onto a platform. The installation involved about 15 workers from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cowan Construction, Boone's Machine Shop and Northwest Industrial Supply. The first piece of T.D. Kelsey's bronze sculpture of a buffalo jump was installed Tuesday in the Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody. The sculpture, called "Free Fall," will feature three bison falling off a cliff and 19 others milling nearby. The Draper is scheduled to open June 4.

CODY, Wyo. - Paul Brock didn't sleep much Monday night.

You wouldn't either if your chore Tuesday morning was to bring a 5,000-pound, one-of-a-kind sculpture through a third-story window and lower it onto a small platform cantilevered 30 feet off the floor.

"I slept about four hours," said Brock, facilities manager at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

Brock's job Tuesday was to oversee the installation of the enormous bronze sculpture in the Draper Museum of Natural History, the newest wing of the museum scheduled to open June 4.

The sculpture, by Bozeman native T.D. Kelsey, depicts a buffalo jump, including three bison plummeting off a cliff and 19 others milling behind. Tuesday's work focused on an awkwardly shaped, 17-foot-long piece of bronze sculpted into three falling, larger-than-life bison. The 19 other bison, to be installed later, will be displayed outside the museum.

The museum had been buzzing for days about the installation, not only for its aesthetic value but also for the engineering feat it would take to get it inside. Kelsey, on vacation in Spain, was anxious, too.

"I talked to him on the phone last night," said Charles Preston, curator of the Draper Museum. "He was excited and a little nervous."

When the Draper was built, workers left a 30-foot-wide hole in the side of the building. Brock and others spent the past few months thinking about the best way to bring the sculpture, entitled "Free Fall," through the hole and lower it to a small platform a few feet below.

"It's like moving a couch through the doorway, only it's 5,000 pounds," Brock said.

They eventually decided to use a high-reach forklift specially modified with a long arm to bring the sculpture through the window. The figure then had to be tipped 45 degrees and lowered 3 feet to the platform, which is connected to a concrete wall.

Crews had a practice run Monday.

"That went flawlessly," Brock said. "We just kept focusing on getting it in the building."

Things went without a hitch Tuesday morning until it came time to bolt the sculpture to the platform. Workers found that the two pieces didn't match up exactly.

Brock had to improvise, bringing in welders to cut longer holes into the stainless steel. By early evening, the sculpture was securely in place.

Preston said the dramatic figure is an apt centerpiece for the interactive museum, which integrates people into the natural history of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

"We knew we wanted to do a buffalo jump," he said. "It's such an icon of the relationship between man and nature."

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