Kaleidoscope: Museums abound for those who like ships, cycles, planes

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During the spring, I checked out several points of interest relating to transportation, including a museum which exhibits small historic ships carved out of ivory and ebony and one which displays historic motorcycles and honors famous motorcycle riders.

The ship museum recently opened in a new building on Route 39 between Sugarcreek and Walnut Creek, and is called David Warther Carvings. The motorcycle museum is called the AMA Hall of Fame and Museum, and is in Pickerington off Interstate 70 in the northwest corner of Fairfield County, east of Columbus.

I visited the latter while on my two-day Memorial Day weekend trek to Fairfield County and its seat of government -- Lancaster.

DAVID WARTHER CARVINGS

Readers may recognize the name Warther, which has been associated with carving for decades. David, 54, is the grandson of Ernest "Mooney" Warther -- often called the "World's Master Carver" -- who carved dozens of steam locomotives and trains which are displayed in a museum he founded in Dover.

Mooney Warther, who died in 1972, began carving kitchen cutlery in 1902. His family has continued the tradition, with third and fourth generation members operating Warther Cutlery at the same location as the Warther Museum. Mooney learned the craft from his father, so carving has now been in the family for five generations.

When he was 6 years old, David carved his first ship. Nearly 50 years later, the collection has grown to 80 ships. The 10,000-square-foot building sets on a hillside overlooking Ohio's beautiful Amish countryside.

The carvings depict the history of ships from First Dynasty Egypt about 3000 B.C. to the present day. David continues to carve daily in his workshop, and hopes to carve another 20 or so ships. Each one takes from six months to 1 1/2 years to complete.

David uses antique ivory, which he is quick to point out is obtained legally from private collections and museums nationwide. The elephant tusks he uses go back to the early 1900s. He documents the material he uses with U.S. Fish & Wildlife authorities.

To create his ships, David obtains blueprints and drawings from maritime scholars and researchers worldwide. Each carving features hand etching and engraving known as scrimshaw. He scores fine lines on the ivory surface with a hand stylus. When ink is applied, the microscopic pores in the ivory absorb the ink while the polished areas remain white.

Even the rigging on the ships is ivory, and is hand-worked to 7/1000ths of an inch in diameter before being added to the ship. David developed his hand filing and sanding technique at the age of 13.

The museum is divided into five rooms, four of which focus on a particular era of shipbuilding. For example, the medieval room exhibits Viking ships. None of the ships are powered by engines and none can be purchased.

The ancient room features 30 ships, medieval has 17, age of exploration 11 and modern 20.

The fifth room is a tribute to Mooney Warther, with a complete steel mill he carved on display, along with some of his knives and many family photos. Also in that room are David's first Viking ship and some of his knives.

Among some famous ships in the collection are Christopher Columbus' Santa Maria, Nina and Pinta; the Mayflower, HMS Endeavor, HMS Bounty, the USS Constitution (dubbed Old Ironsides), a Sixth Dynasty traveling ship and the Royal Ship of Queen Hatshepsut.

Just as his grandfather's trains inspired those who viewed them, David hopes the same will be true for his museum. "If they think about what was done hundreds of years ago with ships, it might inspire them to think about what they do in their lives," he said.

AMA MOTORCYCLE MUSEUM

This is a must-see for all motorcycle enthusiasts. I've never ridden or owned one, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 1 1/2 hours I spent in the two-story building situated at the end of an access road through a dense woods.

The first primitive motorcycles appeared in the mid-1880s. The museum features about 100 bikes -- from an 1894 Roper Steamer up to the modern era. Some of the early bikes had a leather strap running from the engine to the back wheel, which propelled the vehicle.

Other early bikes include a 1909 Royal Pioneer, 1911 Pierce Four, 1919 Indian Military Power Plus, 1926 Harley Peashooter and a Schickel.

Just about every brand of cycle ever made is represented, including Harley-Davidson, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Indian, Husqvarna, Yamaha, Triumph and BSA.

Dozens of dirt track and motocross racers and some of their bikes are in the Hall of Fame, including Denis Manning's 23-foot long Tenacious II streamliner. The police cycle which smashed through a window in "Terminator 2" is there, as are a helmet and photo both autographed by late-night talk show host Jay Leno.

There's also a huge room filled with creative paintings, photos and sculptures of cycles by themselves or being ridden titled "2 Wheels + Motor: A Fine Art Exhibition." Many of the artists are from the Columbus area. Prices are listed for many, but they would scare away a lot of people.

THE AIRCRAFT SQUADRON

The Historical Aircraft Squadron has a museum at the Fairfield County Airport north of Lancaster, but I was disappointed it was not open when I stopped by, even though the literature I had said it was supposed to be.

Parked outside the hanger and visible from a distance were a nice-sized two-prop plane probably from the World War II or 1950s era, a Vietnam era Kaiser Jeep ambulance and a 1942 Plymouth staff car.

According to literature, inside the hanger are a 3/4-scale replica P-51 Mustang fighter with a red-painted tail depicting a Tuskegee Airmen's plane, and a restored Stinson 10 Voyager. A Folland Gnat used in the India-Pakistan Wars is being restored, and a Douglas A-26 Invader restored by the squadron is in a museum in New York.

The museum has several military uniforms and an extensive library of books, DVDs, videos and periodicals documenting how American aviation played a role in wars worldwide.

I've found museums which aren't open when they're advertised to be is a major headache for travelers and history buffs who want to visit them.

MORE FAIRFIELD VENUES

Another place I visited in Fairfield County which had a storied transportation past -- the railroad -- is the small town of Thurston (population about 500).

According to a historical marker in front of the village hall, which was built in 1898 and served as a school for many decades, "Thurston was the railroad town which everybody knew."

Apparently the town boasted a turntable, as the historical marker notes, "The town was the only place in southeast Ohio where a train could turn around 360 degrees and choose which track it would want to go on."

There supposedly was "a huge depot serving the New York Central line," plus "numerous hotels and bars and a mill which packaged many goods that were shipped off to trade centers around the country."

Other than a sparsely-used single track through town, there is nothing remaining to remind visitors of the town's railroading glory days.

The old Thurston High School, built beside the older school / muni building, is abandoned, boarded up and falling apart.

Lancaster boasts one of the only permanent Soap Box Derby museums in the United States. It is open by appointment only, and features derby cars, photos and memorabilia from the Lancaster derby, which debuted in 1955.

While driving near the edge of Lancaster looking for another venue to visit, I passed the site of the city's annual derby. It's one of the few sites I've seen that was built specifically for derby racing and is owned by the local derby association.

A final venue I visited that's related to transportation -- not presently, but a long time ago -- is Lockville Park, a few miles outside Lancaster.

The six-acre site includes three sets of intact locks that remain from the Ohio & Erie Canal. The route of the canal no longer holds water. Somewhere close to the park is where a lateral canal which ran into Lancaster intersected with the O & E. The 45-foot long Hartman II covered bridge, built in 1888, was moved to the park in 1967.

Fairfield County has the most -- 18 -- remaining historic covered bridges of any county in Ohio. Ashtabula has 17 bridges, but some of them have been erected in recent times. I'll focus on the bridges in a future road trip column.

On my way to Lancaster, I drove around the Coshocton County fairgrounds, where the Coshocton Model Railroad Club has its headquarters. I'd love to see the layouts inside some day. Outside are two full-size cabooses -- one from the Pennsylvania Railroad and one from the Nickel Plate Road.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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