In the early 1900s, there was a guy named Ernest "Mooney" Warther. When he was five years old, he found a little knife while out tending cows, and he taught himself to carve things out of wood. After the second grade, he quit school and worked at jobs around town and worked in a steel mill.
Mooney was a creative and mechanical genius, and as his carving skills improved, he became enamored with the steam engine. He set out to carve the history of trains out of ivory, walnut, ebony, and pearl, and at the age of 68, he finished the last train in the collection. These trains, around 64 of them, are unimaginably ornate with moving parts, and some of them have up to 9,000 parts all to scale. The trains were on display at Grand Central Station in New York for a few years, but most of them have been brought back for the family museum in my town. For a small-town museum, Warther's is surprisingly polished and quite a treat, once or twice. Part of the tour, which is often conducted by a Warther descendant, is a series of scratchy recordings of Mooney discussing various projects, and the best line in the whole thing is "I seen it in the wood." You have to love a guy with Albert Einstein hair and the ability to see trains and pliers and canes in blocks of wood or old elephant tusks.
Mooney spent day hours making knives in the family business he developed, and he spent evening hours making his scale model trains. This train is a replica of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. Inside is a little coffin and a tiny key the size of a grain of rice.
His wife, Freida, found herself alone for long hours at a time, as you can imagine, so she collected buttons and arranged them in amazing patterns that are now shown in a "button house" near the museum. Honestly, I think the Button House is a little creepy, but if collecting buttons made Mrs. Warther happy, then who am I to say? She also created a heck of a garden which is still maintained.
I may not be a mechanical genius, but I often think of this weird old guy when I set out to accomplish something, and I think about how his son and grandson at the museum tell all the kids to watch less TV so they will have time to do the things that are really important to them. That's a message for us all, I'm sure.
“Everything has its’ own rhythm or tempo that is in step with nature and if you can find the tempo of the task at hand, the work becomes effortless.”
Ernest Mooney Warther