Former Campbell County Commissioner and Gillette City Councilman Stephen F. Hughes, 66, was found dead inside his business, Landmark Inc., early Friday morning, according to information released by …
BILLINGS, Mont. — Joe Frank was working full time remodeling homes and building garages when he suddenly began having trouble with his eyes in 2004.
Diagnosed with macular degeneration, he had to give up his custom woodworking business but he didn't leave working in wood.
He turned to making wood models of heavy-duty vehicles, a hobby he had dabbled in before.
Now 84 and blind in one eye with limited vision in the other, he puts in hundreds of hours completing models in his tidy home shop.
Frank grew up in North Dakota. Because his older brothers joined the military service during World War II, Frank dropped out of school in seventh grade to help his father on their farm before the family moved to Billings in 1945.
Frank joined the U.S. Navy in 1947 and moved back to Billings in 1965. He owned the Conoco service station at the corner of 24th Street West and Grand Avenue for many years before going into custom woodworking building garages and doing home remodeling.
Because of his vision problems, he had to give up driving, which was difficult.
He began walking most places, which keeps him trim and fit.
Working on the models also has helped keep him busy.
He uses a lighted magnifying glass and desktop magnifier to read model plans and to do some of the detail work.
He continues to use his power tools, including a band saw and sanders. He has operated them so long he knows how to safely cut and finish black walnut, walnut, cherry and bass wood.
"I still have all of my fingers," he says with a laugh, wiggling all 10 digits in the air.
His only other concession to his limited sight is flooding his workshop with light.
Over the last few years, he's made backhoes, bulldozers, a road scraper, steam locomotive and a Model A Ford with a rumble seat that opens and a luggage rack that folds down.
A crane that he made has 300 pieces just in the vehicle's tracks.
He also made scores of humidors for cigar smokers.
His most recent project was a front-end loader that took 250 hours to finish. The vehicle is detailed down to tread on the wheels and side mirrors. Many parts also move. The wheels rotate and the front bucket lifts up.
Frank now is working on a dump truck and expects to follow that up with a belly dump trailer and a WS tractor.
Frank mostly sticks to replicating construction equipment, possibly because some of his relatives work with and around the oversized vehicles.
He and his wife, Evelyn, who now lives in a nursing home, have four children, 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Frank does most of his woodworking during the winter. He's too busy in the summer for indoor work keeping up with a large garden and his lawn.
Information from: Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com