The Richmond Register

Local News

May 2, 2014

City puts the squeeze on Big World

RICHMOND — A local ordinance, state laws and federal regulations on the use of lawn tractors on sidewalks and roadways may soon put Richmond’s favorite mobile billboard out of business.

But, Anthony “Big World” Mitchell, 41, isn’t going down without a fight. He plans to address the Richmond City Commission at its May 13 meeting, he said, and bring with him a petition signed by more than 500 supporters.

“They (supporters) want to see me back on my mower,” he said. “There’s only one Big World, and that’s me.”

It was hard to get a word in edgewise with all the passersby waving, honking and shouting greetings from their vehicles Tuesday as the Richmond Register interviewed Big World on Water Street. He was standing next to a life-size silhouette of himself that local graphic designer Graham Allen painted on the side of First Gear, a downtown screen-printing business.

For those who live in or frequent Richmond, the silhouette of Big World riding his lawn mower decked out with advertisements is a familiar one.

For the past 22 years, Big World has worked as an advertising medium for local businesses and politicians, bicycling all over town to wave and flash his big smile at motorists.

After graduating from Madison Central High School in 1992, he started his one-man enterprise on a bicycle. But, knee and heart problems began to arise as he got older, and those who supported his efforts bought him a lawn mower so he could continue, he said.  

While Big World was being inteviewed, Allen just happened to stop on Water Street to take note of where he needed to touch up the Big World painting. It was created February 2013 to celebrate the 40th birthday of a man who has become an “iconic figure” in Richmond, Allen said.

T-shirts emblazoned with the silhouette were sold at First Gear to raise money to buy a new lawn mower for Big World, who was hospitalized the previous summer with pneumonia. The Richmond Register published a June 2012 story to quell rumors that Big World had died. Callers to the newspaper inquired about his welfare, while flowers and notes of condolences to his family were left outside his home.

But two months ago, Big World was riding his mower to McDonald’s to get an ice cream and was stopped by a police officer who told him he was not permitted to ride his mower on the roadway any longer, he said

The Richmond Police Department recently received several complaints on, not only Big World and his mower, but those who use motorized wheelchairs and other devices on the roadways (which includes the shoulder), said Chief Larry Brock.

While there may be a lot of people “who think we shouldn’t say anything,” the chief said, “our duty is to comply with the law.”

“Most people would agree that roadways, highways and city streets are not places you want people riding around on a lawn tractor,” he added. “The law makes it very difficult for someone on a lawn tractor to qualify for operation on a roadway. It’s almost impossible to do.”

State law allows the operation of low-speed vehicles on roadways, but they must meet a long list of federal regulations to be considered road-worthy, Brock said. Big World’s mower does not comply with those regulations, which requires the vehicle to be equipped with things such as front and rear turn signal lamps, a windshield, a seatbelt and vehicle identification number.

Sticking to the sidewalk also isn’t an option for Big World. Richmond ordinance 70.10 makes it unlawful for any person to “ride, drive or propel a bicycle, wheelbarrow, or other vehicle on any sidewalk within the city.”

The ordinance also prohibits sleds and roller skates.

One exception to the low-speed vehicle regulations is the use of mopeds, which in Kentucky, is defined as a vehicle that is a motorized bicycle with an automatic transmission, an engine less than 50 ccs and the capability to rev up to a speed of no more than 30 miles per hour.

While a moped may be a workable option for Big World, he still needs to obtain a moped license to ride on streets or highways, although a driver’s or motorcycle license would suffice.

Big World said he is confident he could earn a permit, but would need some help getting his driver’s license. With no vehicle or insurance, he would need someone to volunteer their time and car to help with that process, he said.

In the meantime, Big World has been peddling his two-wheeled bicycle around town, faithful to a handful of advertisers. He’s had less business since he stopped using his mower, he said.

“I’ll stand outside all night with the rain pouring on me,” he said. “People ask me why I don’t dance on the corner and smile like I used to. What’s there to smile about? They took my mower away.”

He is considering the purchase of a used adult-size tricycle that he said would make it easier on him to get around.

Those who want to sign Big World’s petition or offer support may call him at 859-544-0271.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

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