BRANDON — John Knight has been on an elephant hunt since 1977.
More than 36 years ago, Knight spotted a 2,000-pound pachyderm on Brandon Boulevard. It wasn't difficult to see since it was painted pink and has greeted passers-by outside the property that once housed Shelton's Nursery since 1974.
He stopped in and offered the business owner, Arthur Yambor, $1,000 for the elephant. Yambor declined the bid and enjoyed the elephant, along with a second statue of George Washington riding a purple camel, until his death in 2004.
Last week, Knight finally landed his prize. Knight was the highest of five bidders for Brandon's affectionate critters during a monthlong auction Yambor's wife, Paula, held as she prepares the land at 1350 W Brandon Blvd. for sale.
Knight paid $2,200 for both sculptures and plans to relocate them to the back yard of his home about a mile south of Busch Gardens in Tampa. He already owns a dinosaur about the same size.
"I was going to put it in the front yard, but then I found out about the controversy and saw some YouTube videos of people climbing on it so I decided to put it in the back yard," he said. "My wife (Suzette) likes elephants."
Knight settled in Hillsborough County in 1966 when his father retired from the Army. In 1984, he opened his residential and commercial moving company, JBC Systems, in part to support his triplets. He also has two grandchildren who he says are excited to welcome home the hollow statues that were constructed to conceal alcohol during the prohibition years from 1920 to 1933 and sat outside a local bar.
Knight plans to use his forklift, flatbed trailer and a custom-made pallet he is constructing to move the elephant and camel very soon.
"This will be the stupidest thing I ever moved," Knight said.
For Paula, it's a bittersweet goodbye to a pair of local landmarks that are leaving the nursery property after nearly four decades.
"I like the buyer who seems genuinely interested in caring for them," Paula said. "Plus, they will only be going to Tampa, where my daughter, son and I may get to visit them occasionally.
"It has been wonderful to get such public response to the critters, as my friends call them. My husband would be delighted."
Eric Vician can be reached at [email protected]