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A Train of Creativity

Burke man finds joy in carving anything and everything with wood.

When Burke-resident Peter Ward heard the Great Train Expo was coming to town, he knew his 1,000 or so hand-carved wooden trains would be enough to fill a display booth.

His trains are different from the others that would be on display, said Ward. His are tiny, and he has invested about 30 years into carving them. It’s a hobby he picked up while living in Minnesota, and he hasn’t put his knife and wood down since.

“I carve everything,” said Ward. “I’m retired now. I carve everyday.”

But trains aren’t his specialty; in fact, he doesn’t really have a specialty. He carves animals, bird feeders, bugs, toys and anything else he can think of, but trains have a special place in his imagination. Ward worked with the Association of Railroads for more than 40 years, so he knows the intricacies of trains and likes carving them.

“He’s probably the most prolific carver I’ve ever run into,” said Hank Cloutier, a friend and fellow carver. “He does everything. You name it, he’s carved it.”

A few years ago, Ward had a Noah’s Ark display at the Kings Park Library of 44 different hand-carved animals. He still has all the pieces and said the project will never be finished because he keeps adding to it.

Since 1979, Ward has been a member of the Northern Virginia Carvers, a local woodcarving group that meets once a week at Woodcraft, a woodworking supply shop in Springfield. Ward was president of the group at one point, and has remained a loyal volunteer throughout the years, said Joyce Beene, the club’s current president.

EVERY SUMMER, Ward teaches carving to children at Colvin Run Mill Park in Fairfax. He remembers one year when he carved a bunch of little bugs and put them into a box full of grass and leaves. The children sifted through it and got to keep whatever wooden bugs they found. “They really loved that,” said Ward.

When Ward found out he would have a spot at the train show at the Dulles Expo Center, he was caught off-guard. The call came on Monday, Aug. 21. He had to get a display together by Saturday, Aug. 26. He wasn’t worried about what to bring, but he was concerned with how he was going to transport all of his trains. They are small, immobile trains; smaller than the train cars in a typical toy train set. Ward said he doesn’t know of anyone who has ever made them entirely out of wood.

“To me, it’s an awesome hobby cause I’m always coming up with new ideas and things to make,” said Ward.

Ward has set up birdfeeders all around his yard. He watches birds as they eat from his hand-carved feeders and gets more ideas for birds to carve all the time. He recently carved a parrot and gave it to his daughter for her birthday.

“It’s a great middle-of-winter-when-it’s-snowing project,” said Ward. “When [my children] need a present for someone, they know where to come.”

When fellow carvers from the club need help on a project, Cloutier said Ward is the first person to lend a hand. His creativity and dedication to carving always come in handy to the other carvers, said Cloutier.

“You work with someone else, that’s how you learn wood carving,” said Cloutier. “He’s very passionate about his carving.”

Ward said the hobby pretty much pays for itself. He takes his displays to various shows throughout the year, and sometimes he sells things. He isn’t in it for the money though, he just likes doing it. Beene said he gets ideas for carving all over the place.

“He’s very innovative,” said Beene. “When he sees something that interests him, he’ll go home and carve it. He’ll figure out a way to do it.”

Ward's imagination was already preparing for the train show before he arrived. To him, it was just another place to glance around for new objects to carve.

“I want to go get some ideas,” said Ward. “I want to make a railroad yard, and I need a little help. This is the perfect place to go.”

As for the amount of cuts he has given himself over the years, Ward said the people at Inova Fairfax Hospital’s emergency room “know me by name.”