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Moleskin Pants Destroyed in Fire; Tradition, Too

December 30, 1989

OWATONNA, Minn. (AP) _ When a pair of yellow moleskin pants went up in flames, so did a 25-year holiday tradition.

Every Christmas, the trousers were hauled back and forth across the southern Minnesota community between the homes of brothers-in-law Larry Kunkel and Roy Collette. Every year, the packaging was goofier.

This year, an epitaph delivered with the ruined pants Saturday told the story:

″Sorry Old Man, here lies the pants ... An attempt to cast the pants in glass brought about the demise of the pants at last.″

Back up to 1964, when this got started.

Kunkel’s mother gave him the pants, yellow moleskin, a strong, cotton-twill fabric supposedly good for Minnesota winters. Kunkel found out they stiffened up in the cold, so he gave them to Collette. The pants weren’t warm enough to suit Collette so he handed them back to Kunkel.

Back and forth the pants went each Christmas, until Collette upped the ante: One year he encased them in concrete.

That’s when the wrapping began to get out of hand: a truck tire filled with nine tons of concrete, a welded-up 600-pound safe, a 17-foot concrete-filled rocket, a crushed automobile, a 225-pound steel ashtray, a four-ton Rubik’s cube, a totaled station wagon jammed with 170 steel generators.

Along the way, news stories about the ″pesky pants″ attracted attention from all over the U.S. and from as far away as Europe and Australia.

This year, it was Collette’s turn to deliver the pants. His inspiration: Encase them in 10,000 pounds of jagged glass that he would deposit in Kunkel’s front yard. ″It would have been a great one, really messy,″ Kunkel said Thursday.

Collette shipped the pants to a friend in Tennessee who manages a glass manufacturing company. While molten glass was being poured over the insulated container that held the pants, an oversized chunk fractured, transforming the pants into a pile of ashes.

So, the ashes were deposited into a brass urn that now graces the mantel in Kunkel’s home.

″It’s over,″ he said. ″Too bad, but once they were destroyed, that’s it.″

Collette isn’t so sure.

″Listen, Larry’s the most competitive person I know. I won’t be surprised if I get the ashes back - in something - next year.″