Beckner’s hobby continues to result in award-winning work

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V.I.P. Very Interesting People

By Stephen Thomas

 BARDSTOWN JUNCTION - Awards are one thing, but sometimes a piece of art can mean much more to the artist than prizes and recognition.

John Beckner has turned his personal hobby into art, winning numerous ribbons over the years at the Kentucky State Fair for his wooden toy models.

Beckner collected 17 ribbons in 12 years of competition displaying wooden model toys, earning his fourth Best of Show in 2011.

The piece that took this year’s top honors, a replica John Deere bulldozer, is Beckner’s most special piece for more than one reason.

There were others that earned Best of Show, but the bulldozer was Beckner’s first earned in the Hobbies/Scratch Built category.

“This was not a kit,” he said. “I designed and built this from scratch. I made my mind up this year and decided to do it on my own.”

Beckner developed his idea from reading a John Deere brochure, taking a photograph of a bulldozer and determining its basic dimensions. He connected about 400 separate pieces of wood for the final product.

On his own, Beckner figured out the design for the moving pieces including the front shovel and the wheels and tracks. His 12 years of woodworking experience and past engineering career with Naval Ordinance came in handy.

“It moves just like a real one,” he added.

Beckner designed the bulldozer primarily out of poplar wood; the seat and grill were designed using walnut. Where the wood came from is the other reason Beckner is proud of the piece.

Always on the lookout for spare wood pieces to throw into his collection, Beckner received a rare treat from his friends Steve and Susan Wurzel.

According to Beckner, the couple is restoring their house located just across the Bullitt County line into Nelson County. The house dates back to 1795.

“I helped with the restoration work,” said Beckner. “They kept letting me keep all the thrown-out wood.”

A story about the house was that the aunt of notorious outlaw Jesse James once lived there. Beckner heard stories about James recovering from a gunshot wound in the house.

What impressed Beckner even more about the house was the handcrafted woodwork that was prepared in the 1790s.

“It’s just amazing that they could do that work by hand,” he said.

Beckner said about 90 percent of his models over the years were made from scrap wood, though none as special as his recent treasure.

“It’s scrap to others but I’ll take it home,” he said. “I like it if it’s different colors, like hardwood floors.”

A personal collection numbering over 30 pieces includes farm machinery, pick-up trucks, a Chevy Coupe and a World War I biplane. Beckners proudly displays his pieces in his own work shed.

“My wife kicked me out of the basement,” he joked. “But it is a good hobby to have and it keeps me out of trouble.”

The Best of Show bulldozer will be displayed alongside Beckner’s other 2001 state fair entry, a road grader that took second place honors in the Wooden Models category.

“I very seldom put two in at a time,” he said.

Beckner is looking toward next year’s competition already. His early plans are to create an Abrams tank.

“It’s a challenge now,” he said.

If you’re interested in Beckner’s work, you’ll have to visit him to view them.

“I don’t sell anything,” he said. “It’s hard to put a value on them. I had one I put 1,000 hours into. How do you put a dollar amount on that?”