By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Buck Pilkenton wanted to enter the Great Salt Lick Contest.

But he didn’t have a cow that could lick a salt block into an artistic entry.

Plus there’s the pesky contest rule that claims blocks will be DNA tested to make sure it wasn’t created by a human.

“There’s got to be a way around it,” he said. “But there’s the DNA testing. And I don’t like salt anyway.”

Then Pilkenton, who worked in the engine room on Seattle ferries before retiring five years ago, noticed a piece of steel pipe that resembled the body of a cow.

He got to thinking ... what if he made a fake cow that could lick a salt block?

He put his skills as a marine engineer to work and started welding.

The finished product was a 200-pound miniature cow named Steela. Lift the tail and a pink-painted wood rasp moves in and out of the cow’s mouth. The ears, one cocked a bit higher than the other, were inspired by his dog, Champ.

Pilkenton is donating Steela to the Great Salt Lick Contest and Auction that happens Saturday, Sept. 15, at Crossroads Carnegie Art Center in Baker City.

His description reads: “Steela is a mechanical salt licking cow, specially bred and built for the person who wishes to produce licked salt, but who can’t keep a real herd at home.”

Steela will be auctioned off, and Pilkenton will add a brand or initials of the buyer.

He doesn’t however, quite classify Steela as fine art.

“It’s the closest thing I’ve done to art instead of functional,” he said.

Steela has been on display at Lone Pine Cafe in downtown Baker City.

12th-annual fundraiser

This is the 12th-annual Great Salt Lick event. It was founded by Whit Deschner to celebrate the unique shape of licked salt blocks while raising money for Parkinson’s disease research at Oregon Health & Science University.

To date, the event has raised a total of $112,000.

Artistic salt blocks can be entered up to Sept. 13. If turned in at Oregon Trail Livestock Supply or Richland Feed and Seed, a used block can be exchanged for a new one. Entries can also be submitted at Crossroads Carnegie Art Center.

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at Crossroads, 2020 Auburn Ave., with viewing and judging by a panel of medical professionals.

The auction starts at 7 p.m. with, as always, Mib Dailey taking the stage to sell the blocks.

See more in the Sept. 3, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.