Favorite

Toy maker: Merle Dodd 

click to enlarge 2006_10-31_16-1-25-524.jpg

Merle Dodd,

miniature and toy maker

Bryant




In a one-car garage near Bryant High School, Merle Dodd is building a railroad depot. It’s an exact, one-inch-to-one-foot replica of the one that stood in town, right down to the shingles on the roof and the clapboard siding. When it came time to paint it, Dodd took a book of paint samples to a 100-year-old woman who remembered the depot from her childhood, and she picked the color it had been: a brown the color of a cup of coffee with lots of cream in it.

Though he makes what he calls his “fantasy” buildings and toys — whirligigs, doll houses, wooden carousels with carved gears to make the horses float up and down — Dodd is, first and foremost, interested in bringing the past back to life in his miniatures.

“To tell you the truth, the history has always been my favorite,” Dodd said. “I get so involved in it because the world’s going by so doggone fast that one of these days somebody’s going to start stacking some of this up” — knocking down historic buildings and such.

Dodd’s interest in building miniatures started in the 1950s, when he worked for a Midwestern construction company. Back then, he befriended a Mr. Lane, an alcoholic gypsy whose first name he never learned. To pass the time and keep himself off the bottle, Mr. Lane would carve and then assemble things from scrap wood and bits of trash. “That was my start,” Dodd said. “He’d build these beautiful things. He was so talented.”

Eventually, Dodd worked his way up to foreman in the construction company, and was sent back to his native Arkansas to ride herd over projects like the Main Street Bridge and two of the lock and dams along the Arkansas River. He kept up his woodwork, and since retiring 12 years ago, the 79-year-old Dodd has spent most of his time puttering around his small shop, using mostly homemade tools to build toys and miniature buildings. Every year for Christmas, he builds wooden toys for Arkansas Children’s Hospital: detailed replicas of the dozers and earth movers he saw on job sites, biplanes, rubber band guns, banks built to break into pieces when you put a coin in them.

The miniature buildings and bridges are his passion, however. He has built several over the years, most of them promised to one local public space or another. Though folk art collectors and the curious have tried to buy some of his buildings, Dodd won’t sell anything, though he gladly gives it away. “Selling might make it seem too much like work,” he laughs.

His recent constructions include a replica of the Bryant post office, a steamer-trunk-sized dollhouse, a scale model of an iron bridge that once spanned a creek in the area (complete down to the rivets on the girders — the cut-off heads of his wife’s pins), and a replica of North Little Rock’s Old Mill. Recently, Dodd lent the Old Mill replica to the Friends of the Old Mill. For that project, currently on display at the Burns Park Visitors Center, Dodd went so far as to count the number of shingles in the roof of the real Old Mill, and built the interior framing exactly as it is in the original, even though most of it will never be seen by viewers. The work helped him through the illness and eventual death of his wife of 47 years, and his own diagnosis with prostate cancer.

“The Old Mill, when I started it, I had no idea how long it would take me to do that,” he said. “I never even thought how long. I was diagnosed with cancer around then, and was really down mentally and physically. The mental I got over. The Old Mill took care of it. Haven’t worried about it since.”

Though his cancer has progressed to the point that he can’t work for very long most days, Dodd says that his art has kept his spirits up. Several months back, his doctor told him his cancer had spread, and recommended chemotherapy. Dodd refused the treatment when he learned it might take away from his time in the workshop.

“I thought, I might live longer if I do this, but if I ain’t able to be out here making something or doing something I’m not living at all. So, I refused it. I’m going to suffer whatever comes. I’d rather be here out here one more day than live a year in the bed.”








Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • The assault on Obamacare begins

    Donald Trump Friday night signed an executive order directing government to scale back Obamacare to the extent possible. Though the signing was mostly symbolic, it likely has implications for Arkansas.
    • Jan 21, 2017
  • Two dead in North Little Rock shooting

    two people were fatally wounded about 9 p.m. Friday in a home in the 1400 block of Division Street, North Little Rock.
    • Jan 21, 2017
  • 2nd Amendment meets the 1st in Fayetteville on campus carry

    They've had a forum in Fayetteville today on Rep. Charlie Collins' fervent desire to force more pistol-packing people onto the campus at the University of Arkansas (and every other college in Arkansas.) He got an earful from opponents.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • More »

More by David Koon

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Top Stories

  • Good for the soul

    The return of Say McIntosh, restaurateur
    • Jun 1, 2010
  • Robocalls are illegal

    Robocalls -- recorded messages sent to thousands of phone numbers -- are a fact of life in political campaigns. The public doesn't like them much, judging by the gripes about them, but campaign managers and politicians still believe in their utility.
    • May 31, 2010
  • Riverfest winds down

    With Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm, Steve Miller Band, Robert Cray, Ludacris and more performing.
    • May 30, 2010
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: From 'octoroon' to 'other'

    • Fantastic discussion - For my two cents if you a BIA Certificate of Degree of…

    • on January 21, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation