Having a 7-foot-tall molded fiberglass chicken suddenly appear on a perch in the front yard isn't a common occurrence in Utah, or anywhere for that matter, but it's one that Leonard J. Arrington experienced last Christmas Eve.

"T.H.E. Chicken," as it has come to be called, will celebrate one year in Utah this weekend. But how it got to Utah is a story of one man's persistence in getting the right Christmas gift for the right person.In April 1987, Rick Sorenson, Arrington's son-in-law, saw the chicken perched outside a Tucson, Ariz., antique store. To owners Ron and Helen Gould, it was part of the family.

The bird reminded Sorenson, in Arizona as part of an Air National Guard training mission, of Arrington, a chicken fancier of unequaled renown. To Sorenson, the bird symbolized the perfect Christmas gift.

Arrington, former historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, grew up on the largest chicken farm in the Twin Falls, Idaho, area. A lifelong affinity for the feathered farm animal is reflected inside Arrington's home, which is filled with chicken lamps, pictures, wreathes, dishes, figurines and even stuffed chickens.

His writing stationery sports a strutting rooster in full plumage.

Sorenson spent four months trying to convince the Goulds to part with the plastic bird but they refused. It was part of their family, and they weren't ready to sell. In August he decided to make one last desperation telephone call to the Goulds. The call apparently convinced them of his sincerity, and a deal was struck.

Sorenson, a transportation consultant in private life, got things rolling. The Goulds delivered the bird to Moab in their 20-year-old van, where the chicken quickly became a local novelty sitting on the loading dock awaiting the next leg of its journey to Salt Lake City.

By late fall it had arrived at a storage company in Salt Lake City to await delivery on Christmas Eve. Armed with spray paint, masking tape and drop cloths, Sorenson added new color in an all-night painting session. Marvin Mower, the facility's night watchman, provided on-site critique of the effort during his hourly rounds.

Sorenson planned to build the perch from railroad ties the day before Christmas and spirit the figure onto the perch that night with the help of friends.

Except the Air National Guard threw Sorenson a curve - assigning him to Panama for a monthlong training stint that would keep him away past Christmas Day. Working by telephone, Sorenson kept the project alive making arrangements for the railroad tie delivery and another person to build the perch. Dr. Jonathan H. Horne, a friend, then was to deliver the bird.

Problems arose at the last minute, however. The delivery man was met by a skeptical Arrington, who was not expecting the railroad ties and refused delivery. Fortunately, after checking with his employer, the delivery man returned and make the delivery anyway. A builder soon arrived with a helper and quickly assembled the perch. So far, so good.

Horne, an orthopedic surgeon, found himself unable to get away from the operating room as Christmas Eve wore on. Not wanting the project to fail, he contacted Sorenson's sisters between patients and convinced them to pick up the chicken and make the delivery.

Two initial attempts were aborted when the Arrington's faces were seen pressed against windows hoping to get a preview of what was to come.

Finally the lights went out, and Santa's delivery was made.

At 3 a.m., Arrington arose to make a long-distance call to a son in England. When he glanced outside, he saw the giant chicken sitting on its new perch and summoned his wife to share a good laugh. The excitement of the moment was spontaneous, and the two decided to open the rest of their Christmas gifts rather than return to bed.

T.H.E. Chicken has become a part of the neighborhood now, complete with landscaping, although neighbors hope Arrington doesn't develop the same affinity for cows.