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The following is reprinted from an article originally printed in the Skagit Valley Herald newspaper, August 12, 2001.

Welcome to Rangerville Mr. Turquoise At Rangerville

Somewhere along the line Ranger Kidwell-Ross forgot to grow up. Sure, he went to college, got a job, got married.

But somehow over the past five decades he has managed to keep making fun of the world and its idiosyncrasies while celebrating his own. In the process he has turned his back yard into a kind of never-never land, where ladies’ shoes and plastic race cars serve as flower planters and a pair of skis has been transformed into the planks of a park bench.

He calls the place Rangerville, and for people who visit, it may be one of the most memorable places they’ll see.

"People are just way too serious most of the time," said Kidwell-Ross, a 51-year-old guy with a gray ponytail who manages to remain childlike – but rarely childish.

He’s a drummer who enjoys banging on pots and pans. He’s a gardener who blends wildflowers with a row of mannequin heads that spring from plastic tubes.

His back yard is every child’s fantasy – an intoxicating mixture of zaniness and reassuring orderliness. The lawn is mowed, the bushes clipped and the gravel paths, though occasionally circuitous, are as well-kept as an English garden. That’s in contrast to the converted skis and race cars – and watch out for that life-size robot made of plastic toys.

Kidwell-Ross sometimes sits in an old-fashioned barber chair in his living room. But he spends most of his day in front of a computer editing a nationally circulated trade magazine and building Web sites.

Still, he finds time to plant bowling balls on metal poles, or rest his feet on a footstool that comes with actual shoes.

The man is a little like Willy Wonka, leading visitors on a topsy-turvy tour of their imagination. He laughs a lot but asks serious questions.

He is the Mad Hatter and you are Alice.

He is also a renegade clown.

Once he slipped into Seattle’s Seafair parade unannounced. The crowd laughed at his quick-change magic tricks and his pretend attempts to sit in the laps of the wheelchair-bound. The one group that was not amused: the actual Seafair pirate clowns, who bristled at an outsider stealing the show.

"This guy (who turned out to be the manager for the Seafair Clowns) came up to me and said ‘You can’t be here,’" Kidwell-Ross said. "‘They’re watching you and they’re not watching the Seafair clowns.’ I always felt that was my best compliment."

Kidwell-Ross used to cake on makeup and slip into outlandish clothes to become a clown. He has since dropped the lipstick tubes and grease paint – too much work – but has stuck with silly clothes scavenged at weekend garage sales. He wears a sequined cap, super-size sunglasses and a toy bird on his shoulder.

When in clown gear, Kidwell-Ross goes by Mr. Turquoise – a name he lives up to by dressing in several hues of his favorite blend of blue-green. His clown name is based on a favorite color from childhood – he once owned a turquoise coat as a 4-year-old.

Where Kidwell-Ross ends and Mr. Turquoise begins is a matter of debate.

What’s clear is that in clown form, Kidwell-Ross is slightly amped up, a bit more sarcastic, a touch more clever. His eyes are the color of a Louisiana swamp, all murk and mirth.

Childrens Toys Robots

He often sidles up to children with his goofy, frame-free sunglasses, and tickles their noses with a feather duster. He pulls quarters from their ears and hands them balloons. He rumples their hair and is loud and bombastic and silly. He also can be gentle. Sometimes with younger children he places his hand inside his clown coat to twirl a tiny, purple dragon from his pocket.

"Come on out," he whispers, coaxing the little dragon at the same time he coaxes a shy child. "You want to kiss his nose?"

The dragon is alive for a moment, bobbing its fuzzy head up and down.

"He has the frivolity of a child," said Janet Needler, a friend from Bellingham.

Kidwell-Ross is unfailingly upbeat, whether dressed as a clown or outfitted in khaki pants and sitting at his computer.

"Sometimes it’s embarrassing he’s so happy," says Needler.

Not that Kidwell-Ross hasn’t had bad times. He’s been married and divorced twice. His ex-wife had cancer, a stressful, painful time, although she ultimately managed to survive.

Now he spends time with a longtime partner and her four children. Kidwell-Ross has never had kids of his own.

Kidwell is his mother’s maiden name and Ross is his father’s last name. Kidwell-Ross is a lot like his two last names, a ying-yang of competing halves that somehow boil over into a fantastic, engaging whole.

There’s a part of him that embraces the little weirdnesses of the world, while at the same time he takes pride in his family’s pioneer ancestry. His grandfather was a teacher in eastern Washington prior to the territory gaining statehood in 1889.

"He’s not crazy by any means. He’s a little different, but not in a crazy way," said Robert House, a neighbor. "Ranger, he’s a smart guy."

And a bit of a smart aleck.

Not only does he enter parades whenever he pleases but he also has been known to pass along bogus business cards to parents eager for a clown to host their child’s next birthday party.

The card reads: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

It gives no phone number, address, or name, for that matter. In parades, the card buys Kidwell-Ross needed time. He smiles and waves when he hands out the card, and before long he is down the street.

"I could be 50 feet away before they realize there’s no contact information," he said, grinning.

When Kidwell-Ross isn’t clowning around he often is in business clothes. He earned a master’s degree in economics from Western Washington University in 1976 and he has spent time working in corporate America.

As Kidwell-Ross puts it, "I can work the other side of the street, too."

Bowling, Mr. T Style

By that, Kidwell-Ross means he can be serious when he needs to be. He flies around the country helping public works departments learn new street-sweeping techniques. He is in high demand.

Still, he sometimes he gets off the plane wearing a broad-brimmed felt hat with a stuffed canary perched on the band. He can’t help himself.

Kidwell-Ross is absolutely passionate about street sweeping. He can go into great detail about the pollutants and particles thinner than a human hair that accumulate on city streets. It’s an invisible scourge, he says, that often doesn’t get swept from streets, and instead accumulates into a toxic ball that lodges in our lungs.

"There’s no attention given to it," he says. "There’s polluted material on every piece of paved surface ... I’m trying to bring the awareness level up."

But mostly Kidwell-Ross wants people to be aware of their own lives and think about what they do, instead of simply doing it.

"People tend to be robots," he muses. "They tend to do what they do today based on what they did yesterday. I want to help people wake up."

• Reporter Marina Parr can be reached at 360-416-2141 or by e-mail at

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