If you ask 59-year-old Dalton Stevens of Bishopville, S.C., why he drives an old Chevy Chevette with more than 100,000 buttons plastered on it, he will gladly tell you: “Well, I reckon it’s because I didn’t want to irritate my wife, me climbing in and out of bed and all.”
Uh, beg your pardon, sir? “Well, I got insomnia,” Stevens clarifies, more or less. “It was the middle of the night, and there I was, wide awake. The buttons, they were just lying there, so I started sewing.”
Stevens stitched away on a pair of blue jeans night after sleepless night about four years ago until they were covered with buttons. Next he worked on a shirt, then a cap. He had put 15,333 buttons on the three pieces when “the weather got better, so I moved on outdoors and started on the Chevy.” After attaching approximately 109,000 buttons to the inside and outside of his car with glue—”Needle and thread don’t take too good to metal,” he rightly notes—Stevens turned to his guitar (3,005 buttons).
Stevens didn’t stop there. After the guitar he festooned his 25-year-old banjo with buttons. Next he decorated a non-operating flush toilet with 26,000 buttons. Finally he adorned a casket that proclaimed him the Button King. Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum has offered to buy the coffin, Stevens claims, but he has refused, not only because he expects to take it with him but because he doesn’t want to break up the set.
Stevens, you see, is a country music performer (“I don’t play no tearjerkers”) who works at small shopping malls near his home (“I don’t entertain for free”). All those buttons are attention-getting parts of his act. Last month he and his wife, Ruby, who is “about 57,” began a tour of the Land of the Rising Sun under the sponsorship of Japan’s Iris Button Co., which claims it makes most of the buttons he buys. But what his visit will do to foster East-West understanding is still open to speculation.