June 9: Mile 1,038
We were scarcely more than an hour from
His name is Ernie, he's 81, and he has been a welder all his life, but just took up making art from farm machinery parts in the fifteen years since he retired. He says he works half days now—from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and every morning he sets out with a goal for what he will complete that day.
He has a whimsical sense of humor—"Would you like to borrow my riding lawn mower?" he asks, pointing to an old bicycle with its front wheel assembly replaced by a push lawn mower. He has a garden of colorful welded flowers, populated with Dr. Seussical birds made from shovel blades and rebar and rake tines and such. A snake chases two road runners, a dog eyes a fire hydrant, a 10 foot tall mother dinosaur proudly towers over a little one hatching from an egg. Mobiles spin in the wind.
There are hundreds of sculptures, and there are bound to be hundreds more, because he has a policy of not selling his work. "You work three days on something, and someone wants to pay you $3 for it. I'd rather have people be mad at me for not selling to them than me be mad at them."
Along the way he shows us the burn on the back of his head from when they tried to shock him back to life after a heart attack he had at age 71. "That electricity burned me. I know what a burn looks like—I'm a welder, and I've been burned everywhere but the roof of my mouth." He was in a coma for a month, but sees his recovery as a miracle. His second miracle was suddenly being able to play the guitar after he recovered. He shows us the calluses on his fingers, and tells us how he plays for the folks at the nursing home.
He wanted to show us his 50 year collection of antique farm tools and horse drawn equipment and transportation, but we didn't have time to stay longer (we could easily have been there all day if we took him up on his offer). So, he invited us to sign his book of visitors, and sent us off with a gift and a joke. His gift was a plastic cup decorated with a felt beak and comb and eyes drawn with a marking pen to look like a chicken. A string hung from the cup, and he pulled a little wet sponge in a jerking motion along the string to make it sound like a chicken clucking.
His joke: "The crows mistook my wife for a scarecrow the other day. They got scared so bad they brought back corn they stole three years ago."
As we left, Ernie invited us to come back next time we visit our family in