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Wood doodler published

By Staff | Mar 1, 2010

Elmer Knudsen at home.

Elmer Knudsen has carved his entire life…first as a meat man then as a woodcarver.

Now, at the age of 96, he has carved out a new niche for himself. He is a published writer with his byline appearing in a national magazine.

Knudsen’s article, “Woodcarving for beginners”, appears in the January-February issue of Chip Chats, which is published bi-monthly by the National Wood Carvers Association in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Knudsen says the article came about because he believes someone’s got to take beginning carvers under their wing. He wants to share some helpful advice which will give them a successful start in the hobby.

As he says in the article, “I don’t profess to be a master carver. I’m just a wood doodler. But I have noticed some things over the years (96) that might be of interest to anyone starting to carve. Most beginners are given patterns and a chunk of wood or a cut-out with no instructions, so here it goes…”

Elmer Knudsen, carving a new piece.

He first got the idea to write the article as a helpful tool for beginners who were joining the Blue Earth Royal Chiselers woodcarving club. He then sent it to the Minnesota State Woodcarvers Association where he has been an executive board member for the past two years.

“While I was at one of the board meetings, they told me my article had been published by the Pennsylvania State Woodcarvers Association,” says Knudsen. “Thinking if it was of interest to the Pennsylvania woodcarvers, perhaps it would be something the editors of Chip Chats could use, so I sent a copy of it to them. I told them if they wanted to publish it they could, and if they didn’t, that was okay, too. I was amazed when they did.”

Knudsen has long been an advocate of teaching the skills needed for the hobby he loves. During the 1990s, he and his friend, the late Herb Hansen, taught carving to youth through community education classes. Last year, he taught a high school student some of the basics.

“When I received a graduation announcement from the student,” recalls a grinning Knudsen, “I put together a present of knives and other items for him.”

Through the years, Knudsen says he has probably helped a half dozen people learn how to carve. That is probably a very humble estimate, considering all of the years he has been involved in woodcarving.

“When I was a kid I was always whittling on something with a jackknife,” recalls Knudsen. “My father was a blacksmith and while he worked I would whittle in his shop. I have always liked the feel of the knife in my hand and the feel of peeling wood.”

Knudsen says his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a blacksmith. But at the age of 14, a neighbor asked the young Knudsen if he would come and work with him cutting meat.

“By the time I graduated from high school,” says Knudsen, “I was a full-fledged meat man. Looking back, it was probably a good thing I didn’t go into blacksmithing. There is little call for people in that area anymore, but most everyone needs a good butcher and meat man.”

Recalling the 1930s, Knudsen says there was a huge depression going on. Jobs were scarce and money even more so. As a result, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came out with the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps.

“I enlisted in the CCC and spent two years at Camp Cusson which was about 40 miles from International Falls,” recalls Knudsen. “I was part of a company of 125 young men. We had uniforms and operated by the Army rules…bugle and all.”

Knudsen says he helped plant trees by the thousands of millions. He, along with the others in his CCC company, also helped fight forest fires as well as doing roadside clean-up of dead brush. They would then burn this during the winter. His CCC crew also helped build bridges and roads in northern Minnesota.

“We earned 20 cents an hour fighting fires,” recalls Knudsen. “Our monthly pay was $30 and $25 of this was sent to our families.”

After leaving the CCC, Knudsen says he had an older friend who convinced him to ride on top of freight and boxcars, like hobos, to Seattle.

“We were really dirty and sooty from the smoke engines by the time we got to Seattle,” says a grinning Knudsen. “We found a Japanese hotel which charged 50 cents a night, then soaked in the tub before enjoying a pork chop dinner costing us 10 cents. Seattle was a melting pot of the world in those days. I remember seeing policemen walking four abreast on the blocks.”

After three weeks in Seattle, the duo returned to Minnesota. Shortly after this, Knudsen says he returned to meat market work and did this until 1937 in Marietta. He then got a call from Redwood Falls to start a meat department in a grocery there.

“I managed the meat department there for $15 a week,” says Knudsen. When he married his wife, Carol, in 1939, he was earning $40 a week. While at Redwood Falls, he and Carol’s two daughters, Mary and Margaret, were born.

“We scrimped and saved everything we earned the first six years of our marriage,” says Knudsen. “In fact, we didn’t have a car those six years. We walked everywhere.”

To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.