An unlikely tourist attraction in Nowata: The bowling ball art of Chris Barbee

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NOWATA, Okla. -- You never know when inspiration might strike.

It could have happened to Chris Barbee while walking down his lane to fetch the mail.

He doesn't remember the exact moment, just the approximate time in 2006 when he decided to fix up the front fence with something a little different.

"I started putting balls up," he states.

Barbee never was much of a bowler but his wife had some bowling balls and she'd just passed away, so he hung them on chains and then got a great response from people who passed by.

"I was getting balls from people," he recalls. "I've gotten as many as 56 from one person at a time."

Chris admits he needed something to do and the balls kept rolling in, so he built more stuff: rabbits, ladybugs, crosses, rosaries, and more.

In the 12 years since he started, his yard has become a home to more than 3,200 bowling balls.

"It's different," says Barbee. "Nobody's ever seen anything like it. I've had people here from all over the world and 25 foreign countries."

The more he built, the more visitors would stop.

"And they all jumped out and started taking pictures?" asked his single morning tourist.

"Yeah," he replies. "They come out and just cover the yard with people."

Over the years, thousands have paid a visit with Barbee on hand to greet almost everyone.

"It's fun," he says. "And I'll say when it quits being fun, I'll quit."

The pyramid, the house, the Newton's Cradle, the Christmas tree, even the giant pool table, and the new rocket he built last summer; you could call them a tribute to his wife, but they've gone beyond that now.

"What would your wife have thought of all this? Would she have approved?" asked his visitor.

"No," smiles Chris. "If she was here, it would not have happened."

All this work, all this building, and mostly all the visitors became, in a roundabout way, a cure for loneliness that's still striking home every time someone new rolls now the lane.

You can find Chris Barbee at home receiving visitors during most daylight hours.

He also has a page on Facebook here.