Thursday, February 02, 2017

Mooney Warther, master carver, and his masterpiece. The Great Northern Mountain type 4-8-4 locomotive consisted of 7,752 individually carved pieces. Made from ebony, ivory and pearl.

Mooney was a mill worker who started a new career making knives, then became famous for the train engines he masterfully carved from walnut and ebony, mother of pearl and ivory.

the carving was completed in 1933 when Mooney was 48 and at the top of his form.

He lived in Ohio, and his hobby was carving steam locomotives in his spare time, and these are undoubtedly the finest things any man has ever refused to sell.

Each model locomotive is entirely hand carved by this extraordinarily gifted man using no lathe nor machine tools of any sort. The motion parts are all operable as well on each locomotive.

 A front view of the Great Northern shows the detail of the drivers and pilot. Note also the thin ivory bell chain looping down the top of the boiler.

the locomotive's bell rope was carved only on Sundays -- so he wouldn't curse when it broke.

Nearly 8,000 pieces, many of them moving -- held together without glue. He carved it in seven and a half months.

He didn't sell his carved trains, he made a museum instead. Most of the carvings are steam engines, with 64 hand-carved, working train models made out of ivory and ebony. The product of Warther's lifelong hobby has been appraised by the Smithsonian Institution and deemed priceless.

One room features 40 years of carvings, carved when Mooney was 28 to 68 years old, includes his first 15 train models. There's also the history of the steam engine, with carvings of engines and trains from 250 B.C. to 1941.

With only a second-grade education, Warther was unable to work in the rail road industry he'd had a lifelong fascination with, because it required at least a sixth-grade education.

He was born and lived his entire life in Dover, Ohio. During his childhood a young Mooney found a small pen knife and began to whittle to pass the time while he was tending his neighbor’s cows. While still a young child a hobo showed him how to whittle a pair of working pliers from a single piece of wood. From these simple pliers would come the most amazing collections of hand carving in the world.

Mooney’s decision to carve trains really came about as a natural extension of his boyhood experience, according to Mark. “ He grew up around roundhouses, where he could see those great locomotives at work. When the railroad companies would toss out their old repair manuals, he would collect them and study how they were built. By age 18, he knew every nut, bolt and rivet that held them together.”

He was featured in the Feb 1946 Popular Mechanics


  1. Man, a true masterpiece. Just beautiful.

  2. We visited many times...speechless...awe inspiring !!! a true master !!!
    Did you know his wife collected buttons...10s of thousands of them !

    1. And I can't understand why I only just learned of him... such an extraordinary talent. I heard about the buttons... but I keep my posts focused on the feature and leave all the rest of the info I come across out of it.
      I read that Henry Ford offered him a fortune, to no avail.

  3. Been there. His workbench has a gantry crane task light over it. Just like the ones used for locomotive maintenance only sized for his bench. Just plain nice.

    1. I wish I'd seen a photo of that!

  4. I went to this museum a few years ago and it is very impressive. He carved a model of the Lincoln funeral train, which is just as intricate as the locomotive here. He also would make working pliers from a piece of wood, with just a few cuts. They have a tree that Warther made from a single block of wood, with the branches formed from dozens of pliers. The whole thing will fold back up into a block of wood.

    1. I saw the plier tree, so many times, but never heard it will fold back up! Thanks! I saw many of his trains that deserve praise, and included 1 photo each of two others, but I didn't want to dilute the focus any more than that after choosing not to show each of his trains. I am still debating deleting the 4 6 4