Monday, March 29, 2010

The Warther Museum - A real treat

While I am blathering on about hand-carved locomotives and my affinity for “The General” (see the previous posting), I wanted to share a picture with you of another hand-carved version of “The General” taken at the Warther Museum in Dover, OH (located about ½ way between Pittsburgh, PA and Columbus, OH.)

I had heard a lot about Mr. Warther and his museum over the past few years and I had always planned to “get out to see it one of these days” but I always put it off. Despite all that I had heard to the contrary, I somehow envisioned the museum to be something that one would expect to find out along Route 66, right between “The World’s largest Ball of Twine” and “Cowboy Bob’s Amazing Snake Ranch”.

But, as I discovered last fall, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

The museum is not terribly impressive on the outside but on the inside it is like a fine jewel box. Each locomotive is mounted in a display case, backed with a velvet curtain, and is beautifully illuminated for maximum visibility. In the course of his life, Mr. Warther produced something like 35 amazingly accurate train models and a number of other works of art. And they weren’t made out of nice soft Basswood (like *I* would do), but from three *much* harder materials, namely Walnut, Ebony and Ivory! You probably know how hard Ivory is but Ebony is probably even harder. While it is still a species of wood, it is so dense that it will sink if placed in water!  Mr. Warther’s 8’ long rendering of Lincoln’s funeral train, complete with Lincoln lying in state) is made of *nothing but* Ebony and Ivory.

All of his trains feature fully moving wheels, drive rods, cylinders, bells and chains with dozens of individual links. Absolutely nothing requires (nor gets) any lubrication. All moving parts run in wooden bearings made from a tropical wood (regrettably, I cannot remember just now *what* type that is) that secretes enough oil to keep everything moving smoothly. The day we visited was (I think) the 95th anniversary of continuous operation of one of the models. That’s pretty darn amazing!

There was scarcely enough room in his 8’ x 10’ shop (still the way he left it) to set up one of the models, let alone build one. Surprisingly, the *only* power equipment that I could see was a vintage Delta drill press. Many of the other tools (hammers, files, knives and chisels) he made himself on the small anvil in the corner of the shop. His family still makes and sells quality woodcarving and kitchen knifes in the basement of the museum.

Mr. Warther’s other major claim to fame was the ability to turn a small piece of wood into a pair of moveable pliers (an old whittler’s trick) in record time. (I think it takes 9 well-executed cuts.)  Supposedly, he fashioned a pair in just 8 seconds (!) during an appearance on the Johnny Carson show in the 1980s. In a special display in the museum has a set of  interconnected 1024 (as memory serves) pliers cut from a single piece of wood measuring about 1.5” x 3” x 12”.

If you ever find yourself with an hour or two to spare while in east-central Ohio, I highly recommend making the trek up I-77 to Dover and stop by. The museum is only a few hundred yards off the interstate.

Check out their website before going. Last year they had discount coupons on-line.


‘Til next time. Keep makin’ chips!

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