By Alex Haglund
There are dozens, maybe hundreds of vehicles lining the walls of Henry Setzekorn’s basement just east of Nashville. Many of these vehicles are models of John Deere vehicles, as Setzekorn is a big green and yellow fan, but others are truly one-of-a-kind – these are the toys and models Setzekorn makes himself.
Setzekorn has had a lot of practice at making these trucks, wagons and tractors. Hazarding an estimate, he says, “My grandson is 27. I built him a truck and the first one he got , he was four or five years old for Christmas. And I’ve built him one every year since then…So I’ve been doing it at least 20 years.”
Setzekorn worked as a miner, once owned Nashville Cleaners, helps to farm, and worked at the Illinois Department of Transportation for about a decade before retiring in 2008. At the 2016 DuQuoin State Fair, Setzekorn was asked to show some of the vehicles he made, and among those he displayed was an IDOT maintenance truck (in orange, of course) like the one he used to drive.
While Setzekorn may have only been making vehicles for 20 years or so, he’s been working with wood a lot longer. “My dad had a shop,” he said, and when he started out there trying to make things in his early years, “I probably wasted a lot of wood.”
Setzekorn’s whole basement, featuring many, many displays of John Deere vehicles and keepsakes, as well as a fully featured wood bar, was built by him. At one point, he was aided by his son Scott, or “Fuzz.”
One day in 2000, after Henry and Scott had put some panelling in the ceiling, Scott left for the day. On his way home, was killed in a car wreck.
Work stopped on everything in the basement for at least three or four years. Eventually though, Henry returned to the basement, and to the woodworking. “He wouldn’t have wanted me to leave it undone.”
Just off of the display and bar room is Henry’s workshop, were he goes to work with his dog following him dutifully. There are numerous projects going on at once here, including a wooden chest and a toy truck that like the ones on display in the other room, which is still in its relatively early stages.
In front of the pieces of the toy truck are a series of photographs of the real thing, the truck Setzekorn is basing this off of. There are no plans, blueprints or stencils. Setzekorn goes straight from reference photos to the workpiece.
There are no screws or nails used in these trucks. Just joinery and glue. That makes them very nice to display (and not exactly delicate), but not quite suitable for rough play from toddlers either. Setzekorn said that many of the vehicles that he made his grandson are now in storage while his children grow big enough to be able to have them without destroying them outright.
When Setzkorn is finished and the vehicle is painted, sanded and glossy, it’s a sight to behold.
The joints on each of the trucks are smooth. So smooth in fact, that there have been people who have seen the handmade vehicles and thought that they were made of plastic.
At the Illinois State Fair in DuQuoin, Setzekorn had a display of his vehicles, and he stood by, watching people check them out. One guy came by looking at the vehicles behind glass and according to Setzekorn, said, “I don’t care what anyone says, that’s not made of wood!”
“He said it was too smooth, too shiny,” Setzekorn relayed, so he unlocked the case, picked up the vehicle and, after verbally impressing upon the man just how much trouble he would be in if he dropped it, handed it to him to hold.
“After he felt it,” Setzekorn said, “he changed his mind.”
“I know in my head what I want and I know how to make it fit,” Setzekorn said talking about how the vehicles go together, “it just comes natural.”
By Alex Haglund