Born in Ohio in 1885, Ernest “Mooney” Warther took work in a steel mill at age 14. In his spare time, he whittled, and developed great skill. At 28, he built a modest workshop in the backyard of the family home and undertook what would come to be regarded as his masterpiece: A series of 64 carvings, starting with Hero’s Engine and ending with the Union Pacific “Big Boy” locomotive, depicting the history and evolution of the steam engine. He was “discovered” in 1923, quit his job at the steel mill and, after touring the country for six months, devoted himself entirely to carving and handiwork.
During the Second World War, Mr. Warther put aside his personal projects to make commando-style fighting knives for American servicemen. He was not a government contractor and therefore had to scrounge for materials; even so, with the help of the community, he was able to deliver more than 1,100 knives. He was a pacifist, but wanted American servicemen to have access to the best equipment. He was working on the knife pictured above when, in 1945, news reached him that the war had ended. He put the knife down, unfinished, and never picked it up again. The Warther family treasures it to this day.