however, when they are restored to their former glory they will
delight the hearts of collectors. They sell for prices of $5,000 to
$7,000 for small horses and from $20,000 and up for bigger, more
elaborate and rarer pieces.
carousel horses children ride now are usually made of aluminum or
fiberglass, John says. "Only a few carousels still have wooden
horses. Thereís one in Indianapolis at the Childrenís Museum.
Anyone can ride it, adults or children, and I think the price is
still 25 cents."
has been working with wood, one way or another, since he was in Cub
Scouts. Woodworking and music have always been important parts of
his life, but heís tried out a number of ways to make a living
[Restoration began with only these three pieces]
getting a bachelor of arts degree in music at Millikin University
(and doing much of the work toward a masterís degree), John became
a music teacher in Beason. When the Beason high school district
merged with Lincoln, he became a rehabilitation supervisor and
counselor at the Lincoln Developmental Center
the Illinois Department of Mental Health began moving residents out
of the Developmental Center, he worked for a while for the
Department of Corrections. "I was workshop supervisor and also
in charge of leisure time activities. It gave me a lot of good
[Sutton created these
legs from scratch for the limbless horse]
enjoys restoration, and before he started working with carousel
horses he restored buggies, wagons, sleighs and hearses. Among his
other occupations have been chair caning, clock repair, sign making,
selling monuments, and fine woodworking and carving of various
a dedicated member of the Possum Holler Pickers, an old-time music
group that will be holding a free jam session on Saturday at the
Lincoln Recreation Center. John will be playing the mandolin.
Possum Holler Pickers started years ago as a dulcimer group with
MeLane Coulter and her brother, Kevin Beatty, from the settlement once
called Possum Holler, between Middletown and Broadwell. All three of
them played dulcimers. More and more people joined, until there were
eight to 10 members.
[The Finished Product]
started branching out and fiddling around," he says. "We
are always trying something new." The original group is now
two, a dulcimer ensemble called Prairie Aires and the present Possum
Holler Pickers. "Our group got into old-time country, which was
what I grew up on. Thatís country without electric instruments and
no rock influence. We are also doing bluegrass, which is a different
style but with the same instruments and sometimes even the same
pickers play at church suppers, for nursing homes, wherever they are
asked. "If someone wants to pay us, weíll take what they give
us, but we will put the money back into the community. Thatís what
our March 11 concert is. We rent the place and buy some food,
although anybody can bring a potluck dish. Everybody can come, no
charge, and play sing, listen and eat with us. Thatís how we give
back to the community what they gave us."
members of the Possum Holler Pickers include Kenny Harris, rhythm
guitar; Manny Gaston, banjo; Darryl Wibben, lap dulcimer; Dale
McRoberts, guitar; Lynnette Belcher, bass; Tanya Conrady, bass; and Maureen Douglas, fiddle. Others may sit in from time to time.
well as being an artist and a musician, some people call him a
philosopher. Heís not so sure, but he does say this: "If you
think at all, youíve got to come up with something. You donít
always know how sound it is or how valid."
philosophy includes a sense of humor, he certainly qualifies. About
the variety of jobs heís held, he says: "If youíre in a job
too long, you donít want anything to upset the apple cart because
then you might have to do some real work. Right now Iím trying to
wean myself off food and shelter so I can stop working."
values he lives by are summed up in the first two commandments.
"If you truly love your neighbor as yourself, you wonít raise
yourself higher than your neighbor. The higher you raise your
neighbor, the higher you can go."
way John "raises his neighbors" is by lending a helping
hand whenever he sees a need, whether itís buying groceries for a
senior citizen who canít get out, fixing a neighborís bicycle
or helping somebody draw up plans for a shed. If a friend just needs
somebody to tell his troubles to, John is ready to sit and listen.
lifelong Catholic, he attends Mass every morning at Holy Family
Church. "It starts me out pointed in the right direction,"
he says. After Mass, heís off to breakfast at the Arcade
Restaurant with a group of friends. "We have a broad range of
experts on everything," he notes. "We solve all the worldís
big problems at breakfast. Then I come home and take care of the
also enjoys local history and knows a lot about Lincoln and Logan
County. Abraham Lincoln, who was once a surveyor, laid out
Postville, he points out. He also knows why Union Street got that
name. "Itís the street that joins Lincoln and
addition, Sutton is a member of Lincolnís Logan County Arts and
Craft Guild, a volunteer group that demonstrates arts and crafts of
the 1800s at local events such as the Railsplitter Contest and the
annual Postville Festival, held in conjunction with the Balloon Fest
and Art Fair. For these demonstrations heís made treenware, wooden
kitchen utensils such as spoons and forks, and a mortising machine
that makes square holes using foot-power.
often seen around town riding his bicycle or hiking along the
railroad tracks, and he doesnít worry about what heís wearing.
"How I look is not one of the most important things in my life.
One day I went to the Arcade and all my clothes matched. People
asked me if I was sick. I said, ĎNo, itís just the luck of the
ago, while on vacation, he decided not to shave. "It dawned on
me that for some reason, a man has a beard. God wanted it that way.
I used to trim it up but finally I thought, why go to all that
doesnít worry, either, about acquiring things. "I got to the
point where I found out what was sufficient was enough. It takes all
the pressure off, knowing there are a lot of things I donít have
to have and I donít have to keep up with anybody." Suttonís
not very keen on competition either. "Iíll play games but I
donít want to keep score. Why donít we just have fun? Why canít
we both win?"
enthusiasm for bicycling led him to work on a committee to lay out
bicycle trails for Logan County riders. An east-west trail will link
Chestnut, Mount Pulaski, Elkhart and Middletown. A north-south trail
will link Williamsville with McLean. The ultimate goal is to connect
Lincoln with Springfield and Bloomingtonís bike trails, perhaps
even getting as far as Pontiac on the north and Carlinville to the south.
of the trails will be on existing roads, but the committee wants to
be sure there are signs indicating these roads are also bike trails.
"Then motorists hopefully will run us over at lower
speeds," he says.
in his workshop he has books explaining the history of the companies
who made merry-go-round horses, and he can talk at length about the
different types and styles. Small, sturdy horses were made for
carousels that went to country carnivals and had to be moved from
place to place regularly. These used construction details that
wouldnít break, ears laid down or even detachable, legs in
parallel so the horses could be stacked close together for moving.
Larger, more elaborately carved animals were made for machines that
stayed in one place, such as an amusement park. These carousels
might have 50 or 60 animals with ears that stood erect and flying or
"peek-a-boo" manes with three or four holes in them.
the two major types, there were many styles," he explains.
"There are standers, prancers and jumpers. In any one of those
you can have a variety of other details. You can have the heads
tucked down or you can have stargazers, with the heads looking up.
You can have wooden tails or horsehair tails."
Craig, the head of maintenance at Lincoln College, is in business
with Sutton. Craig does the locating, buying, selling and trading
and Sutton does the restoring.
first step is to take the horse to pieces; then repair each piece
individually. "Everything comes apart, just like youíd
restore an old Model T," Sutton says. It doesnít worry him
that he has a bucket of legs here and a pile of ears there.
"You know what goes on what horse. You know the hoof of a
Hershell-Spillman just like youíd know a taillight from a Model
part of the horse is missing, he recreates the piece, maybe a neck
or a pair of legs, puts it all back together, smooths it out and
finally paints it the way it used to be. "We mix our own paint.
Ron knows the exact colors."
rarest and most expensive piece he ever restored was a standing
donkey. "We signed a waiver for $20,000 when it was in a junk
state, and we insured it for $55,000 when we sent it back," he
the finishing touches on his latest creation]
moved to Lincoln in 1966 and canít see any good reason to leave.
"Iíve got friends, freedom and what I do for recreation. I
hike and bicycle, ride my motorcycle and fish, draw, carve, pick and
grin, grow veggies and flowers. Iíve got most of my
Note: The Possum Holler Pickers will hold an Old Time Music Jam on
Saturday, March 11, from 2 to10 p.m. at the Lincoln Recreation
Center, Primm Road. Area musicians are invited to bring acoustical
instruments and sit in with the various groups. A potluck meal is
set for 5 p.m. Soft drinks will be provided. No alcohol is allowed.
[Sutton, a fiddler for the Possum Holler Pickers practices his tunes]