Support for Maple Crest Farm leads to restoration project

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Jul. 11, 2013
Jim Leonard, an 87-year-old carpenter, stands with the 1840 Amish tobacco wagon that he fully restored. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
Jim Leonard, an 87-year-old carpenter, stands with the 1840 Amish tobacco wagon that he fully restored. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

Ken DeDominicis is the manager of the model train department at Time Machine Hobby on Hilliard Street in Manchester. He is also the owner of Maple Crest Farm in East Hartford. Since he purchased the farm in 1996, he has always been on the lookout for the accoutrements that help create that “farm look.”

By now, the farm is home to a collection of local agricultural memorabilia. There are haykickers from the strawberry farms on Hillstown Road in Manchester, and a tobacco setter from the Mulchahy Family on Hill Street (originally from a farm on Brewer Street in East Hartford). A barn, which looks like it has resided on Maple Crest since time immemorial, is actually a transplant: it once sat across from the Mill on the River restaurant in South Windsor. Another barn was once a railroad station in West Hartford, but was brought to Maple Crest and converted into an egg and poultry shop. It now has a second life as the home of DeDominicis's antique model train city.

When plans were announced to install an AT&T cell tower on his farm, the property became the locus of interest in a contentious town-wide debate. People came to visit his farmland, to see the proposed site for themselves.

One of those visitors was Fred Leonard, a neighbor. He supported the Maple Crest Farm, and therefore supported the tower proposal, as it would ensure that the farm would never be subdivided. It was during his visit that he spotted the tobacco wagon.

The wagon was nothing more than a lawn ornament – too rotted and run down to be functional. It was a gift from the Botticello family of Botticello Farm in Manchester, which DeDominicis gladly accepted. He had hoped to restore it, and even made a trip to New Highland, Pa., to the door of Mennonite-owned Whitmere Coach. There, he purchased four replacement wheels. At $800 for the set, DeDominicis called it a steal. Still, time passed and the project never got done.

Fred Leonard, however, knew someone who would be able to fix it: his father, an 87-year-old World War II veteran and lifelong carpenter.

“I wanted to keep myself occupied, and I wanted a challenge,” said Leonard.

The original wagon was broken down into parts, and brought to Leonard's workshop in Portland. There, he duplicated each piece, even hand-carving the axle. The original hardware was reused, and the four Whitmere Coach wheels were added. He completed the project in about 20 hours.

DeDominicis was thrilled with the result. “It's so balanced you could push it with one finger now,” he said. He will paint it and use it as a display piece for selling flowers from his greenhouse.

Leonard, too, was pleased with the restoration. He is also looking for another challenge. DeDominicis owns a 1933 Chevy truck in need of a new wooden carriage. “That's Jim's next project,” he said.

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