RUMFORD — Three-year-old Samuel Demascio of Rumford brimmed with excitement early Thursday afternoon, as did about 20 other people who greeted Babe the Blue Ox's arrival on upper Congress Street.
While Rumford Selectman Mark Belanger and a Public Works crew installed the nearly 400-pound fiberglass bovine on a cement pad on the Rite-Aid Pharmacy lot, Demascio shouted instructions to his dad, David Demascio.
"I want to take a picture of you on the Blue Ox," Samuel twice repeated, while held in dad's arms.
That's what Jim Rinaldo of the Economic Development Committee is hoping tourists will want to do beside — not astride — Babe.
Signs created by local artists will soon be erected at the Rumford Information Center's Paul Bunyan statue steering people into the downtown area to visit Babe, and, hopefully, businesses. An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people visit the information center annually.
By noon Thursday, the center lot was full of people driving cars with out-of-state plates, who stopped to photograph Bunyan, fall foliage, and the Androscoggin River's Pennacook Falls behind the center.
"I think it will be good for the town," Belanger said while drilling holes into the cement through Babe's four hoof bases to bolt the 6-foot-tall by 10-foot-long bovine into place. "I really believe it's going to bring people in," he said.
In August, selectmen voted 3-1 to take $6,500 from the town's economic development fund to buy Babe from Mike Hurley's Fiberglas Farm of Belfast. Hurley said Thursday that one of his sculptors, Ray Paulin, created Babe in Berlin, N. H., because it was closer to Rumford than Belfast. It took five to six weeks to build Babe.
On Thursday, Hurley was to stop at the Information Center at noon to let Babe "get acquainted" with Bunyan and possibly catch a police escort to the Rite-Aid site. However, because Hurley was late and no one knew how long it would take the town crew to offload and install Babe, Hurley bypassed the center where people were waiting and drove straight to the site.
"We didn't want the town crew to have to work overtime, because their department closes at 2," Rinaldo said.
Using a bucket loader, straps and chains, the crew lifted Babe off the trailer, and set it down facing Rite-Aid on the cement, which was donated by Coleman Concrete of Bethel. Then, after Belanger drilled holes through the bovine's base, five men lifted Babe and turned him around to face down Congress Street.
"This is guaranteed for 10 years?" Belanger asked Hurley, who answered affirmatively.
David Demascio said his son likes the large blue ox and wanted to see it arrive. "This was a good event and it will be good for the town to try to help," David Demascio said. "Anything will be good if it can help."
"He looks great," Hurley said of Babe.
Linda Walbridge, director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council with Community Concepts, agreed. "I think he's beautiful," she said to Hurley.
She then credited Rinaldo and town officials for following through on Rinaldo's creative idea to spur economic activity in Rumford. "I think that anything that can be done in Rumford is a positive thing," Walbridge said. "I've heard people laughing about this, but if this can get people across the (Androscoggin River) bridge, I'm very excited about it. It's a creative first start," she added.