Don Hall has more than 450 different carvings displayed in his garage in St. Clair.
Hall grew up on a farm west of Bennett Springs in a town called London Smoke. Hall said the town had a one-room school, a one-room church and a large grocery store.
He learned to whittle at the age of 9 from his grandpa, Jack Simpson.
“He said ‘I’ve got an old Barlow (knife) in the house and if I can find it, I’ll sharpen it up, and I’ll show you how to whittle,’ ” Hall recalled.
Today, that same Barlow knife his grandpa used to teach him how to whittle lays on the carving desk in his garage.
“I wouldn’t take a $1 million for it,” he said.
Throughout Hall’s garage are countless wooden figures, animals, rolling pins, spoons, plates, knickknacks, ornaments, hiking sticks and more. His favorite figures to carve are Native Americans.
“If you can carve an American Indian and just make it look like there’s tears coming down his eyes whether they are or not, if you can get that kind of a facial feature, he’ll sell,” Hall said.
The reason he likes carving American Indians is because he is a quarter Cherokee, Hall said.
Although there are many finished carvings on his shelf, there are several unfinished ones on his desk.
“I have a problem in finishing a carving,” Hall said.
“When you start carving and you start after it till it gets done, you spend a long time. And I get bored, and I go off on anther one.”
He does not typically sell his carvings unless someone asks to buy one, however, he does sell Christmas ornaments and crosses that he creates.
“Maybe I’m kind of weird, but I put so much time and work into making one of those (carvings), and I can’t hardly part with it,” he said with a laugh.
Basswood is a common type of wood for carvings, according to Hall.
“Basswood comes from northern Minnesota, and it’s the wood of choice for carvers because you carve it and it will hold together,” he said.
Many of his carvings are inspired from his childhood memories. One carving he has is of a log with feet sticking out at the end. One day when he and a friend were playing in the woods, they came upon a log.
“We decided we wanted to crawl in that log and I went first. I got hung and I couldn’t get out,” Hall said.
“That caused me to make this, remembering those days.”
He also has a carving of a shoe, which reminds him of when his father used to fix shoes for him and his siblings.
“We saved our shoes until winter. We went barefoot always in the summer. We had old shoes that were broke down and wore out. And my dad would go to town and buy rubber soles,” Hall said.
“He’d sit there and glue that sole on and put tacks in it and make us a new shoe.”
Hall said he was proud of the shoes his father made.
“Kids nowadays, they can’t be proud of a pair of shoes unless it costs $300, and I was just proud because I had a new sole on my shoes,” Hall said.
Career as Truck Driver
Hall married his wife Clara right after high school in 1955. They have been married for 61 years. Clara is a retired teacher of 43 years, having taught for 27 years in St. Clair, according to Hall.
In 1969, he and Clara moved to St. Clair.
Hall started his own career as a truck driver for a propane gas company. He said his job required him to move every couple of years.
The last 12 years of his career, he was vice president of sales for the nation’s fifth largest propane company.
“I covered the territory from Duluth, Minn., to the coast of Florida,” Hall said.
Since his job required him to work out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he would fly home on weekends to attend church at the Disciples of Christ in Villa Ridge, with Clara.
“We did that for a long time. It’s amazing what you can do if you really set your head to (it),” Hall said.
After 43 years of work, Hall retired.
In the early 1970s, Hall served twice in the Army. The first time, Hall said he was sent to Germany to “mop up” or clean up different areas from World War II.
Six weeks after he returned, he was drafted a second time, but he did not have to travel overseas.
“They sent me to school to learn to set the trigger mechanism on atomic warheads,” Hall said.
“I didn’t want to know that then, and I don’t want to know it now, but I’m sure now that’s all obsolete, so I would never be called to do it.”
He added that he was also in the 2ond Armored Division.
Makes Honey Too
At age 82, Hall continues to carve in his garage shop. He attends carving shows around Missouri and the country, and also participates in several area carving clubs.
He and Clara have one son, Dan, who also resides in St. Clair with his wife and children. Dan inherited many of Hall’s artistic abilities. Hall’s favorite thing to do with his son is make honey from the bees they raise every year.