With his ‘Bear’ hands

By on September 18, 2019

Retired WWII vet, 94, keeps busy crafting objects out of wood

Long after retirement, Mahlon Bear, 94, of Brickerville, continues to live a busy life.

Growing up locally in the village of Oregon (then known as Catfish), he was a spry young boy during a time when dirt roads were common and many people used their feet to get from place to place.

“We walked to Brownstown, Neffsville, Millport; we walked,” Bear recalled. “For entertainment in the evening, we went down to the culvert and watched cars go by.”

Saturdays were also designated as hiking days.

One of the places they frequented was Lehoy Forest, near what is now The Log Cabin Restaurant.

“That was the home of Indians,” he said. “We went there expecting to see Indians!”

When he was old enough, he attended a modest, two-room schoolhouse.

“Grades one through three were on one side, then the other side has four, five, and six,” he said. “You knew everybody and everybody knew you.”

He would then continue his education through the advice of his mother and father.

“My parents insisted that we go to high school, and so we had to go to Neffsville,” he said. He would graduate in 1942. A few months later, Uncle Sam came calling.

“I waited until my number came up,” he said. “It then came up in April of 1943.”

Mahlon Bear.


These two figures saw wood back and forth.


This piece of farming apparatus moves apart and together.


A collection of Amish adults and children which were created by Bear.


This detailed Conestoga Wagon, complete with a team of mules, is just one example of the handiwork of Mahlon Bear of Brickerville.


These wooden frogs go up and down on a teeter-totter.


He was then sent to New Cumberland Reception Center; and like so many other “instant” soldiers, he was sworn in, and quickly issued a uniform.

“We shipped out, and I went to Miami,” he said of his time in the service. “There were no barracks there. There were no hotels either. We marched and did our drills on the streets on Miami Beach.

The calisthenics were tough. On the other hand, we got tough too. I could do one-arm pushups.”

After the war ended, Bear worked at Yerger Bros. in Lititz for 18 years. He then sought a new adventure-he and a partner purchased the Elizabethtown Planing Mill, operating the business for five years.

Although he kept a pretty busy schedule, he always found time for recreation.

“From 1946 to 1950, I was fishing and hunting,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in girls; I was having too much fun.”

But through some friends, he would eventually be set up on a blind date.

“So then I had a girlfriend,” he joked. “We hit off. I took her fishing and to hunting camp.”

Marriage would eventually take place.

“We were both stubborn, so we eloped in Maryland on a Saturday morning,” he said. The couple celebrated 63 years together before her death in 2014.

These days, a lot of Mahlon Bear’s time is spent creating hand-made, decorative toys sourced from local wood. Displays set up inside a room in his home contain shelves and shelves of the fruits of his labor. It’s a creative hobby he’s had since childhood.

Around the room are Amish buggies, as well as plain men, women, and children. There’s also carved eagles, horses, and mules. Rows of colorful sleighs, wagons, and even unpainted milking stools complete with utters can also be seen. Then there’s frogs that go up and down on a see-saw; a pair of men who saw logs; and two boxers who square off in the ring all by turning a wooden crank.

It’s precision mechanics at its finest, and all manufactured with Bear’s own hands.

It all begins with him gathering up materials from his own woodpile on his property. Precise measurements are then taken before the wood is shaped. Painting comes next in the process.

“My oldest project I have is a little carving that I made in 9th grade in art class,” he said as his eyes slowly peered across the room.

“Each wheel has individual pieces; it’s all piece by piece,” he said of the extremely detailed Conestoga Wagon he created. Upon further inspection, in front of the vessel, each horse’s foot is positioned slightly different, giving the illusion that it’s in motion. Functioning brakes also work on many of the vehicles. It’s these small yet precise details that this master craftsman strives for in his work.

But his creativity doesn’t stop there—in addition to his wooden creations, he also sews, making quilts out of scrap fabric which he then donates to charitable causes.

His eyes slowly turn to a wooden wagon at the end of one of the shelves. It’s a funeral hearse, complete with a modest, wooden casket inside.

“I’m going to be buried in a casket just like that,” he said. ‘It’s picked out already.”

And to nobody’s surprise, he’s already sewn a special blanket that will one day line the casket.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423.

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