Master Carver

 Posted by at 1:29 am  Nick's Blog
Oct 082011

Yesterday was a road trip day. We left Smith’s Campground & Cabins near Loudonville, Ohio and drove some 45 miles along a series of two lane roads through the rolling hillsides and some nice small towns, until we came to Dover, home of the fabulous Warther Museum. I have been hearing about this place for years and have wanted to visit. I’m glad we did!

The museum houses the work of Ernest “Mooney” Warther, who has been recognized as the world’s “Master Carver.” Patrick Warther, a great grandson of Mooney, met us in the museum’s lobby and made us welcome, and we chatted for a few minutes about the museum and what we would see there. Then we joined a guided tour of the collection.

Mooney Warther started whittling as a five year old boy, with a pocketknife he found while herding cows. He seemed to have a special talent for creating things out of wood, and by the time he was a teenager, he was already making a name for himself. The museum showcases his life’s work, 64 walnut, ebony, and ivory carvings of steam locomotives. But these are not simple replicas of the great behemoths of the rails. These are true works of art!


Each locomotive is crafted in exquisite detail, right down to the smallest pin and bolt. Railroad engineers and locomotive designers carefully inspected every creation, and said they were exact recreations. Mooney used hundreds of pieces to create each locomotive, and the attention to detail is amazing, Wheels turn, levers move, doors open and close.

Closeup detail

The locomotives are absolutely beautiful. This is the Dewitt Clinton, the first locomotive of the New York Central Railroad, from 1831.

Dewitt Clinton

And here we have another New York Central classic, the Commodore Vanderbilt. 

Commodore Vanderbilt

The Illinois was the first locomotive to burn anthracite coal.


As word of Mooney’s art spread, his fame grew, and celebrities and industrialists made a path to his door. But he never let the attention change him from the small town boy he always was. However, as time went on, he could afford more exotic raw materials, and began carving from ivory and ebony.


No matter what medium he was working with, Mooney never missed the smallest detail. Each rivet, each coupling, every piece was individually carved.

Locomotive head on

Abraham Lincoln was one of Mooney Warther’s greatest heroes, and one of his greatest achievements was the Lincoln Funeral Train, which is complete right down to the slain President’s coffin in the last car.

Lincoln Funeral train  

While best known for his carvings of trains, Mooney was just as famous for his hand carved wooden pliers, which he gave to visitors to his shop. Each was carved from a single piece of wood. But anybody can carve a pair of pliers, right? So Mooney started carving multiple pliers, all from one piece of wood. His largest multi-plier carving was over 500 pliers, all from a single chunk of wood, and required 31,000 cuts!


When he was 13 years old, Mooney lied about his age and went to work in a local steel mill to help support this widowed mother. The museum displays two of his animated carvings of the mill, complete with turning feed belts and moving figures.


Mill workers

A true artist needs the right tools, and when Mooney couldn’t find carving knives that fit his hands, he began making his own. Then he made his mother a kitchen knife, which she showed to her friends, and they all wanted one too. This led to the birth of the Warther Cutlery Company, which is still in business today, and is still a family operation. Chefs worldwide use and revere their Warther knives, cleavers, and other kitchen utensils.

Knife display

After we toured the museum, we watched craftsmen in the shop making knives. We overheard one lady telling her friend that she got a paring knife 30 years ago, and it is just as sharp today as it was way back then. Guess what well known RVing chef and recipe column author stopped by the gift shop to get herself a beautiful new knife before we left? 🙂


The house where Mooney and his wife Frieda lived for 63 years, and where they raised their five children, is next door to the the museum and knife shop, and open to tours. Frieda loved gardening, and even today, members of the Warther family still maintain her flower gardens. Frieda also collected buttons, and a small building called the Button House displays some of the 100,000 buttons she accumulate in her life, and used to create lovely designs.

Button display


If you’re anywhere around north central Ohio, put a trip to Dover high on your Must See list. You won’t regret it.

For several months now, the Event Promoter from the Medina County Fairgrounds has been asking us to consider having a future rally at their location. We’re always looking at new venues, so I wrote back and told him what our needs are  in terms of RV parking and buildings for our seminars and activities, and what our budget is. He assured me that they could meet all of our expectations, so from Dover, we drove 65 miles north to check it out.

The gentleman was a very nice fellow, and new to his job. But five minutes into our tour of the place, we knew it was a waste of time. The RV parking was marginal at best, but the buildings he showed us included a horse barn with dirt floors and wooden stalls down each side, a large building with no heat or air conditioning, and marginal lighting, and a couple of storage buildings half full of building materials. Their best building was the Community Center, which was very nice, but way too expensive for us. Oh well, we tried.

We had an early dinner in Medina, which is a beautiful small town, and then drove another 50 miles back to Loudonville. We stopped at the Street Fair so Jan could purchase a bag she had admired on our earlier visit, and Miss Terry wanted to check out a couple of stores. I sat outside on a bench, watching all of the activity, and discovered that the mullet is alive and well in Loudonville, Ohio. And I don’t mean the fish!

Back at the campground, the place was packed with weekend campers who had arrived while we were gone. Kids were playing and having a good time, and we enjoyed standing outside talking to our hostess, Amy, and her daughter Kim. Those two have such twisted senses of humor that they could qualify for membership in the Gypsy Journal family!

Bad Nick wasn’t into all of that socializing, so he stayed inside and posted a new Bad Nick Blog titled Amish Gangstas. Check it out and leave a comment.

Thought For The Day – While you’re busy looking for the perfect person, you may miss the imperfect person who could make you perfectly happy!

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  7 Responses to “Master Carver”

  1. Nick, the pictures from that museum are awesome! I know that when Charley sees them he is going to want to go!! Glad that you are having fun!

    Safe travels!!

  2. Gosh, Nick, this is just plain perfect! I had already planned that next year’s trip will include Ohio (we have friends just north of Columbus, and couldn’t manage to see them on our way home a few weeks ago.) So now I’m just making yet another “Nick Russel Guided Tour” for our next vacation. I don’t suppose you’d like to tour Kentucky a little bit after Ohio, on your way south, would you? I need to add to the Lexington Horse Park stop which I believe you profiled a while ago.

    As long as you keep this up, my vacations will all be awesome! (And thanks for the Oregon Coast tips; we had a fantastic time out there.) BTW, your photos of the countryside are exquisite. Does it take a long time to upload them all? That is always the glitch with my blog; it takes forever to upload photos.

  3. Seriously Nick! 🙂 It is from 19 years of owning a campground!!!!

  4. what awesome carvings! Thank you for sharing your tour with us. The pictures are great. We had never heard of this museum and we will now try to go see it for ourselves.Stay safe in your travels.

  5. Debbie,
    Depending on our air card speed, it does take some time to upload all of the pictures. Switching to Live Writer helped a lot.

    Glad you enjoyed the Oregon coast. It is spectacular.

  6. OK Nick you now have us officially jazzed for a trip to Smith’s Campground to explore that area of Ohio!!!! Who new it could be so beautiful? And if Amy, Kim and crew met your high (or is that low) standards of humor, I know we’ll fit right in too? 🙂

  7. Being a woodcarver I love Warthers Museum. Even you are not a carver, the work you see there goes beyond art, it is incredible. I have made the pliers. Not as easy as it looks.

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