Mr. America returns to Kremmling

photo by Kim Cameron | Gary Vocate poses with his dog, Kenai, and the iconic steer, Mr. America. Gary refurbished Mr.America so he could become Kremmling’s landmark once again.
photo by Kim Cameron | Gary Vocate poses with his dog, Kenai, and the iconic steer, Mr. America. Gary refurbished Mr.America so he could become Kremmling’s landmark once again.

For over four decades, the Middle Park Meat Market steer stood at the entrance of Kremmling.
The fiberglass bovine has been featured in countless newspapers and magazines across the state. Between the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post alone, the steer was featured five times! It was even recognized nationally.

“It was pretty famous. It was just a real landmark,” recalls the former meat market owner, Harlan Land, who says one Denver newspaper even ran a full-page picture of the steer.

“All summer long, people would stop and take a picture with the steer,” says Harlan.
Harlan and his brother Leo owned Middle Park Meat Market in 1975 when a good friend and schoolmate of Harlan’s, who was in the wholesale meat business, acquired the steer from a meat market in Denver.

The friend called Harlan and asked him if he wanted the steer and, of course, Harlan said yes and traveled to Denver to picup .

Harlan transformed the solid-black steer into a red one and had a trailer built with a swiveling tongue to pull the steer. He added the colonial flag for the bicentennial celebration and the Kremmling Days parade in 1976.

Harlan laughs, “I didn’t have enough room for all the stars so I painted the colonial flag.” He added the flags quickly before the parade, and the flags became a major part of the steer’s character.

After its inaugural appearance, the steer–now known as Mr. America–became a mainstay in the annual parade with Harlan pulling it behind his tractor.

Care of Mr. America was also an essential job for the late Glenn Bakke, Kremmling’s local man with Down syndrome. Glenn was featured in a Denver paper and was pictured pulling the steer on the trailer. His responsibilities included rolling the steer into the shed at night and pulling it out the next morning. Glenn took this job seriously and performed it faithfully for over 20 years.
After the Middle Park Meat Market changed hands and was not active for a short time in 2016, the steer’s paint and body began to deteriorate as it sat out in the weather.

Larry Vocate, a friend of Harlan and fellow veteran, took the steer to his house just down the road from the meat market to protect it and begin refurbishing it. Possessing a unique artistic imagination as well as being a craftsman and former taxidermist, he felt he could easily do the project.

Larry was fighting cancer at the time and succumbed to the illness before he could finish the project. Gary, Larry’s only sibling, then took the steer to Denver to finish the project.

Gary said finishing the project his brother started was “very healing.” He estimates the project took over 200 hours to complete, and friends helped with its completion. Big Horn Paint in Cody, Wyoming even donated the paint to finish it.

According to Gary, at one time, the steer may have hung outside of a business. It had a metal frame inside of it. As he refurbished it, he decided to remove the frame (and a wasp nest that had been built inside of the steer).

The flag was also repainted on the outside of the steer. “I am not sure I got it right,” said Gary noting how hard it is to paint a circle. “I hope they let me keep working on it.”

Nostalgically he recalls trips through Kremmling, “We always knew we were in Kremmling because the steer was here.”

Now for travelers, Mr. America will once again signal Kremmling’s entryway.