Chuggin' along


Randy L. McKee photo

The way Carol Warther-Moreland tells the story, her grandfather Earnest Warther, or Mooney as he was fondly called, took one of his complex woodcarvings to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair — and blew some very notable minds.

The piece exhibited was his jaw-dropping Plier Tree. Warther had hand carved 511 pairs of wooden pliers, all connected, from a single block of wood. When opened, the pliers took on the form of a tree. When folded, they returned back to the shape of the wood block. After being introduced to this remarkable piece of craftsmanship, Robert Ripley expressed surprise, amazement and serious doubt that in fact all 511 pairs of pliers could be folded back into the block from which they were carved. “So Mooney folded the tree back up to prove it,” Warther-Moreland said. “It took him two hours but it happened. That’s just one of the many priceless works of his art that we have on display here at the Warther Museum.”

Warther spent much of his adult life doing what for many would be the impossible — carving replica train engines in mind-boggling detail out of wood. In fact, Warther’s passion for carving resulted in 64 completed engines that are today the focal points at the Warther Museum, which is located adjacent to the Warther Cutlery manufacturing facility and gift shop.

“The carvings depict the evolution of the steam engine from 250 B.C. to the 1940s,” said Warther-Moreland, who is the director of the Warther Museum.

Along with the carvings and videos that detail events from Warther’s life, a tour of the museum, which sits on eight acres of property, also includes a visit to the original Warther family home.

“The home has been restored to its original 1920s elegance,” Warther-Moreland said. “We even have the original kitchen table used by Mooney and his wife, Frieda. It has holes in it from grandma drilling her button cards. The kitchen is really a tribute to Frieda, and the couple’s wedding portrait hangs in the house. During the Christmas season, we put up a fully decorated tree and display many family heirlooms. It’s a very special place with a touching look back at their history.”

While Warther tinkered with his train engines, his wife collected buttons — about 73,000 in total, give or take. That button collection, which, remarkably, includes a button from Mary Todd Lincoln’s inaugural dress, can be found in the little restored building that lives behind the family home. “Frieda had a fascination with quilts and quilt patterns, so her buttons are displayed as various quilt designs,” Warther-Moreland said. “The displays include every kind of button imaginable — glass, bridal and even rubber.”

The button house was the home of the original Warther Museum. As Warther’s collection grew, the structure became too small and was converted into a lovely little homage to Frieda Warther’s passion for buttons. The current museum, which was constructed in 1963, draws people from across the nation, particularly during the holidays.

The cost to visit the Warther Museum is a modest $13 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-17. During the Christmas Tree Festival, tour times will be limited so it’s best to call ahead before you go.

The Warther Museum is located at 331 Karl Ave. in Dover. Hours are Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last tour starting at 3:45 p.m. The phone number is 330-343-7513 and you can find out more online at