A Tour of the Warther’s Collections of Carvings, Buttons, and Arrowheads
This priceless collection of hand-carved trains is located in Dover, Ohio, 100 miles west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and 120 miles northeast of Columbus.
Named a master carver by his European counterparts, Swiss-born, Ernest “Mooney” Warther lived most of his life in the quiet town of Dover. Having never sold a carving, his family has preserved his work in a museum.
Recently added to the tour and surrounded by beautiful gardens is the Warther home, a small bungalow where he and his wife, Freida, raised five children. Besides gardening, her hobby was collecting buttons, spending hours at the dining room table mounting them. The buttons are displayed in a separate building. As evidenced in Warther’s workshop, the couple also enjoyed collecting arrowheads found in the region.
From Steel Worker to Master Carver
Warther’s interest in carving was by chance. At age five, upon the death of his father, he herded sheep for neighbors for pennies a day. Consequently, Warther only had a second-grade education. During the nine years in the fields, he discovered a rusty pocket knife in the dirt. A hobo at the train station showed the teenager how to whittle a pair of pliers out of the long, thin block of wood.
One day, inspiration hit and he carved over 500 working pliers instinctively. (He didn’t realize his mathematical usage of geometric progression.) This pliers tree was displayed at the World’s Fair.
Transitioning from whittling to carving, he crafted a series of models of trains with intricate moving parts using readily available wood. Discovered by a prominent rail line, he quit his job in the steel mill and accompanied his work across America in a train car. Later, it was displayed in Grand Central Station in New York City. Encouraged to stay in New York, Warther opted instead for small-town living and returned with his collection to Dover.
Carving Tools to Knives
Since he spent long hours at his hobby, he developed a set of knives for comfort and versatility. To supplement his income, he made paring knives, selling them locally. The variety of knives and business both grew and after making knives for use in World War II, Warther was able to turn the business over to his son returning from the war and devote his time to his hobby until his death in 1973.
Today, in the back of the museum is the Warther Knife Factory. A fourth-generation Warther recently joined the family business after college graduation.
Replica of Funeral Train of Lincoln
One of these finest works was completed while in his eighties. An admirer of Lincoln, he carved from wood and ivory a miniature of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train complete with a coffin containing Lincoln’s body.
The Warther Museum
If fascinated by trains and detailed carving, enamored by beautiful gardens, interested in a homey tale of a talented family, or curious how Warther got the nickname “Mooney”, the museum is located off Interstate 77, 25 miles from Canton, Ohio and 82 miles south of Cleveland.