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Master tinkerer

Former city of Lodi employee Ed Janke builds intricate model cars, trucks, trains and utility vehicles with wood he cuts and shapes himself. Now he shares the workspace, skills and hobby he has loved or 20 years.

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Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012 12:00 am

Ed Janke sits on a stool in his garage, surrounded by piles of quarter-inch thick pieces of black walnut and birch that have yet to be tampered with. He sits patiently, holding a rounded piece of wood against a larger chunk as he waits for the Elmer’s wood glue to dry, bonding the curved pieces.

Dr. Oz’s opening credits play on a small TV that sits on a workbench filled with his tools, and there is a chill in the shop as cool fall air blows in through the open garage door.

Janke works mostly alone, though he’s often visited by a neighborhood cat, “Meowey,” who adopted him after its owners moved away. Making wood models is a solitary hobby that he enjoys while others have bought and admired them.

Janke has a collection of models he’s completed. He’s on No. 44 now — a 1951 Ford pickup. He has a John Deere tractor, a ’28 Ford, an airplane and a bulldozer. In the cupboards are pristine models of a train, a well driller, school bus, Army Jeep and a backhoe. His biggest complaint is that he needs more plans for more models.

Janke started created automobile models 20 years ago, after he discovered an advertisement in a magazine for the “Toys and Joys” catalog. In the catalog, he found hundreds of toy patterns for wooden automobile models.

He started buying kits that come with tiny accessories, like dowels, axle pegs and some wheels, for $20 to $30. All of the major parts he creates on his own, cutting wood following patterns for whichever train, plane or car he’s building.

The final works are intricate, not toys at all. Every piece must be shaped, cut, molded or sanded perfectly for it to come together completely with glue, not nails. To make small, detailed pieces, such as headlights, he cuts circles and sands it until it’s a perfect fit.

Sometimes, though, the plans don’t always work.

“The (company) makes some mistakes in measurements, so you have to improvise,” he said.

It’s all part of the fun.

When he’s done, the models — all in their original light and sandy wood colors — get a glossy finish with a deft coating.

Janke’s affinity for woodworking was a gift from his father, a woodworker who did building remodels. Janke would follow his dad on jobs, and learned the secrets of working with different woods and saws.

When he moved to California, he bought his own house, where he did all of his own maintenance and built all of his own cabinets.

When he moved to Lodi, he rebuilt his garage and added 12 feet on the back. It gave him more space for his woodworking, and he jokes now that his cars have never fit inside the garage.

Janke’s shop is beside the Lodi home he and his wife, Elvina, lived in since 1960. Elvina died earlier this year, and now Janke spends a lot of his time tinkering in the garage.

That’s nothing new. He’s always spent a lot of time tinkering away. “(Elvina) thought I spent too much time out here ... It was better than siting in a bar like some people do,” Janke says.

Janke is retired now. For 35 years he was the water and wastewater supervisor for the city of Lodi. If something went awry, like a fire hydrant shooting into the air, it was his job to make it work again.

“I got the stinky jobs,” Janke jokes.

Janke’s wooden models sell for $250 to $700. If you are interested, contact Janke at 209-368-4944.

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