It’s Lovely Weather for a (Restored) Sleigh Ride Together With You
By LYNNETTE FORTH | For The Prairie Advocate News
John Swiech is currently in the process of another restoration project, which he had hoped to have done by Christmas, but is waiting for warmer weather to ensure that it turns out to be the best that it can be. (PA photos/L. Forth)
With Christmas upon us, wouldn’t it be neat to take an old fashioned sleigh ride with our loved ones?
John Swiech of Mount Carroll has taken it upon himself to restore his family sleigh, and is in the process of finishing another for a local resident. Swiech completed the restoration of his father’s old sleigh which was purchased in the 1960’s just last year.
Being his first attempt at such a project, the experienced wood worker explained that his family did in fact use the sleigh, and one year was used to escort Santa into Mount Carroll, complete with a race horse owned by local resident Jim Colehour.
“We didn’t win any races, as there was no snow, so I had to fabricate wheels on to it,” Swiech said laughing at the memory. “My family had a lot of fun using it.
“One year, I decided to move it to dad’s, since my barn was pretty rickety. Low and behold, with a lot of heavy wet snow, his barn fell in, and damaged it! That was in the 1970’s. I kept it all those years, with the intention of restoring it one day after retirement. My mother, who is 102 now, previously restored the cushions herself years ago. It looks really sharp.”
The restoration project included redoing the whole front end, but was not unrepairable by any means.
Jayden Forth takes a seat in John’s restored sleigh. John and Thelma said they have taken winter sleigh rides, but it can be very cold!
Last year John received a phone call from a resident in town that purchased a sleigh, and questioned whether or not Swiech would want to attempt another restoration.
“I felt confident in my ability, so I took it on. I was really hoping to have it done by Christmas, but a lot of my work is based on the weather.”
The painting process needs to be done in warm temperatures, to ensure the best results, and requires Swiech to wheel one or two pieces at a time into the heated garage to complete, and dry them in the best environment.
“Right now, I am waiting on the weather to warm up. When it’s done, it will look very nice.”
With an extensive background in woodworking, Swiech credited his knowledge to his business experiences with his father. The father and son duo owned a production company which manufactured furniture frames, then shipped them to the Chicago area, with many specialty pieces completed for resorts across the country. The company, “S & S Woodworking,” was very successful and at one time employed forty workers in Mount Carroll.
“Woodworking got so competitive that we transformed our business to the upholstery industry, and changed our motivation. Dad was a woodcarver by trade, and used to work with a wood carving machine. I think I have saw dust in my blood.”
When asked how one learns such a trade, Swiech stated “I do a lot of research on the internet, and I even spoke with an Amish fellow on the art of wood bending. Clint Roberts also gave me a great deal of help.
“When you want to bend wood, you better have enough wood for 6, 7, or 8 because a lot of times, it breaks. It’s a challenge. It keeps me thinking. It’s just about keeping busy for me.”
John credited his wife, Thelma, for her encouragement, saying “She gives me a lot of moral support. If I am stumped on something, she will offer suggestions.”
In the next few days, the Swiech family will be celebrating the holiday season, with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren arriving to enjoy an old-time mode of transportation. John has plans to one day work on restoring an old Doctor’s buggy, which he anticipates will be a fun chore.