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Archive for Monday, January 12, 1998

BIG SPRINGS MAN GOES BUGGY

January 12, 1998

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— Leroy Burd carries on the old-fashioned art of carriage making.

It is no secret that Leroy Burd has gone buggy. But he also has gone surrey and eight-man wagonette. And he's working on stagecoach.

Burd, 58, is a former carpenter who has mastered the antique art and science of horse-drawn carriage making. His shop is full of antique hub borers, harness stitchers and rough logs waiting to be turned into wagon parts.

"I've always been interested in it," Burd said. "Mother said I was born 100 years too late."

A surrey, his first project built in 1974, sits in his front yard.

"I built a surrey because I couldn't afford to buy one," he said.

The last carriage he built was a wagonette that carries eight people. Unable to find full-scale plans for what he had in mind as he built it, he copied it from an 1/8-inch scale model.

Of his various wheeled creations, "there aren't any built off plans."

For one wagon, a buckboard, he made measurements and sketches from an original at the Fort Leavenworth museum.

Burd once worked as a carpenter, but then he lost an eye in a chainsaw accident.

"I carpentered for 20 years," he said. "But after I lost the eye I can't do that. I can't drive a nail or anything."

But that doesn't keep him from the finer craft of carriage building. The wheeled conveyances go together mostly with screws and bolts. And the loss of an eye hasn't stopped him from turning spokes and drilling holes.

"I can do this sort of stuff," he said.

The carriage making is something of a hobby business. He works full time at Perry Manufacturing in Perry.

"If I get a bigger shop, I'd like to turn this into a retirement job," he said, perhaps when he's 70.

"I will work all my life," he said. "I can't sit still."

Burd said he learned the fundamentals of carriage making from "an Amish fellow down by Garnett. He wouldn't show me how to do it, but he would tell me. Then I'd come home and try it out, sometimes seven or eight times before I got it right."

Burd has a team of four Morgan horses, which he uses to pull his handiwork.

"I like driving the four," he said, "but wife, that scares her to death. Once you drive four you don't want to go back to two."

Burd raised the team from foals and trained them, too.

Burd makes all the components in the carriages except some of the hardware such as springs. His wife, Robbie, helps with the upholstery.

He bought the equipment from an old harness making shop in Meriden and is at work making his first set of leather harness. He is hand sewing the pieces.

"You can cut a thread anywhere and it won't come loose," he said.

Burd, a religious man, said he would like to make carriages full time.

"If it's God's will," he said, "it will happen. Paul tells us in Corinthians that God has given each of us our talents. I just hope my talent for this provides people with enjoyment."

Even the mistakes from Burd's shop are put to use.

"We heat with wood," he said. "So if a hub don't turn out, we burn it."

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is shields@ljworld.com.

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