Old Talking Grizzly goes into hibernation

— Staff reportNovember 19, 2013 

It's in with the old and out with the new ... but, only temporarily. For safety reasons, Brad and Belinda Ditton of Century 21 Ditton Realty, made a tough decision to replace the existing Talking Bear, constructed of fiberglass.

"Over the years, the body became soft in spots due to many kids (and some adult kids) sitting on top of the bear as they listened to the Grizzly's story. Our main concern was a very soft spot on its back, just behind its distinctive 'Grizzly hump,' and we were concerned a child may fall through, and possibly become injured," Brad said.

After Jeff Boyd (Bodys by Boyd) assessed the bear, a decision was made that the proper repairs could not be done onsite. The cost of removing, rebuilding, refurbishing, repainting and replacing the original bear led the Dittons to investigate other options.

"We researched aluminum bear monuments online and found one in Jackson, Calif. that appeared to be an exact match of the existing bear," Belinda explained. "We took photos and measurements, and drove to Jackson to check the raw mold."

As it turned out, the bear the Dittons located in Jackson was an exact match in proportions to the Oakhurst bear. However, once the new bear was purchased and delivered, the Dittons were disappointed that the appearance was not up-to-par. So, it was taken to Bodys by Boyd's for minor cosmetic work.

"Jeff and Shelia Boyd, and their body and paint shop crew, completed a spectacular job of fine-tuning the bear's features and paint," Brad said. "Sheila's natural and realistic airbrushing of the bear, especially his facial features, is amazing."

Along with the sturdy aluminum body, the Dittons upgraded the sound system with new speakers and an amplifier. Over the years, the speaker system inside the old bear had been vandalized multiple times.

"We hoped to discourage vandalism with the bear cam," Belinda admitted, "and that did help, but we needed a more secure solution, so we purchased new speakers; Charles Gabler (Signs by Gabe) built a new speaker box and mounted the sound system on the sign directly behind the bear."

Catherine Nelson with Firesign designed and constructed the new sandblasted sign for the new bear, while Oakhurst Crane and J.R. Airey (Airey Custom Homes) took care of the installation.

"During our travels, when we mention that we are from Oakhurst," Brad said, "many people know our town because they have visited Yosemite. Because people from many countries know about the bear, we have renamed him 'The World Famous Talking Bear.'"

"We are fully aware of how important the Talking Bear is to the community so we were determined to make any transition a positive one," Belinda added. "It has taken on a life of its own and every year hundreds of people stop to take their photos and hear the bear's message."

As for the original bear, the Dittons plan on having it restored by Bodys by Boyd's so that the entire mountain community can continue to enjoy the now-extinct Grizzly for generations to come.

A life-size replica of a California Grizzly, the Talking Bear was installed 50 years ago and was the idea of Hugh Shollenbarger the owner of Oakhurst Realty.

"Hugh frequently told the story that when he first installed the bear," Brad said, "he reported it as a business expense on his business tax return. Shortly thereafter, an IRS agent made a special visit to Oakhurst to meet with Hugh.

"The agent wanted to investigate just what Hugh was trying to pull over on the IRS with that Talking Bear stuff. The agent left town as a friend, smiling with bear photos and fully satisfied that Hugh really had a Talking Bear and his tax reporting was 'just fine.'"

The Talking Bear promotes respect for the forest and wildlife, and also makes a plea for conservation of the forest and forest creatures.

GRRRAAHHH, I am a California Grizzly Bear.

Thanks for stopping to visit me.

It is estimated that 30,000 Grizzlies roamed California, the last one unfortunately being killed about 1922.

I am the official animal of the State of California. You will see my picture on the California flag.

I can smell syrup five miles away....

"If you have not stopped by to listen to the Talking Bear lately, please do so. He will tell you many interesting 'Bear Facts,'" Brad added. "You can also visit Friends of the Talking Bear on Facebook."

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