- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

AFTON, Va. (AP) - If you are a bluegrass musician in the surrounding counties, there is a good possibility that you have a gold-colored railroad spike, crafted into an instrumentalist, sitting on your shelf.

For more than a decade, Afton resident Ronnie Matheny has taken railroad spikes, washers, slugs and finishing nails to create these miniature works of art.

After welding them, attaching small pieces of wood, adding a few coats of gold paint and topping them off with a big dose of love, Matheny hands the pieces out to musicians at bluegrass concerts.

Matheny left the hills of Afton and joined the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s. Later when he got out of the service, he went to the Newport News Shipyard, where he learned to weld.

Taking on construction jobs in Kentucky and Tennessee, Matheny met the love of his life - Janie.

The pair have been married for 55 years and in 1968 returned to Afton, where they still enjoy square dancing and attending Bluegrass festivals.

Long before Matheny began making railroad spike figurines, he found other ways to be crafty.

One day, while cutting out a picture frame for his wife on a band saw, he cut off part of his thumb and had to go to the hospital in Charlottesville.

“While getting hundreds of stitches in my hand I told the doctors and nurses that I didn’t have any money or insurance,” Matheny said. “They just smiled and said there would be no charge.”

But that didn’t stop him from continuing to use his hands.

The spike creations began in 2002, when Matheny crafted the figure of a golfer. A year later, his then four-year-old granddaughter came to him with a spike she had found and asked her grandpa to make a grasshopper.

The request was granted, even down to the red paint job the little girl wanted.

A year later, Matheny made his first musician figurine - a banjo player. The now 75-year-old said he has owned a couple of banjos but never learned to play.

Today, Matheny often can be found outside of his basement, welding the small pieces together to create a shiny gold musician figurine. Because of the shape of the top of the spike, each one appears to be wearing a bebop hat. Attached to each spike is a miniature instrument - a banjo, guitar, fiddle, bass fiddle, Dobro mandolin, or something else.

His basement is full of other spike creations that show everything from boxing matches and men shooting craps to custom motorcycles.

Matheny said he sold his first couple of figurines after being asked to make some. But after giving one away, he decided the smile on a person’s face was worth more to him than money could bring.

“I like to keep at least 100 figures in the trunk of my car,” Matheny said. “They go fast at festivals.”

He gives them out to musicians, being careful to make sure the instrument on the figurine matches what the recipient plays.

At different music events, he’s even given them to a few national bluegrass and country music notables, including Marty Stewart, Jimmy Fortune, Ralph Stanley and Rhonda Vincent.

The renowned artists liked the figures, he said, and told Matheny they were thankful for the unsolicited gifts. Matheny recalls that Stanley looked at his for a moment, then turned around and walked away.


Information from: Nelson County Times.

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