“The Unknown Soldier” is leaving Custom Furniture in St. Charles, due to the store's closing after 75 years. Wyman “Clint” Carey bought the wooden soldier and is moving it to his barn in Pingree Grove.
The owners of Custom Furniture, Richard and Carolyn Pakan, are closing the store because they said they have decided to retire. Carolyn Pakan said she thinks the residents of St. Charles will be “devastated” the wooden soldier is leaving. She said it was a “landmark” and that people would stop in the middle of Route 25 to take a picture of it.
Andrew Pakan, father of Richard Pakan and original owner of Custom Furniture, found 100-year-old oak trees that had fallen on his property, said store manager John Pakan, son of Richard and Carolyn Pakan. In honor of the upcoming U.S. bicentennial, he decided to craft a Revolutionary War soldier out of the wood, John Pakan said. He completed the soldier on July 3, 1976, just in time for the bicentennial. He dedicated the structure to unknown soldiers who died in the Revolutionary War and were never properly documented, John Pakan said.
To complete the structure, Andrew Pakan needed to raise the soldier's head and place it on top of its body. Instead of hiring a crane, he did it himself using a rusted tractor, John Pakan said. The head of the soldier was placed on a bucket on top of the tractor, and the tractor started wavering back and forth. “My dad thought he was going to die,” said John Pakan. The head was so heavy it almost flipped over the whole tractor, he said.
The soldier is 18 feet high, and just its head weighs 650 pounds, states the store's website, www.customfurn.com.
Carey, former president of Pingree Grove, had driven by the soldier many times, and his wife, Brook, saw a newspaper article about the store closing and the soldier needing a new home. Carey said he didn't want to see the soldier go into decay. He runs small businesses on his barn property in the Heritage District of Pingree Grove, so he thought his barn property, located on Reinking Road in Pingree Grove, would be a good new home for the soldier, he said.
According to Carolyn Pakan, Carey was one of several potential buyers of the soldier. She said she and her husband are “thrilled” to sell it to Carey because they feel that he will lovingly and responsibly take care of the soldier, adding that it takes a lot of work to keep up and that it has been repainted numerous times.
Carey said he has some friends who restore barns and work with big pieces of timber, and they will work on transporting the soldier. They will erect scaffolding around the wooden soldier and take it down piece by piece, he said. The pieces will then be driven in a truck to the destination, Carolyn Pakan said.
The transportation work will start in the next couple of weeks, Carey said.
Restoring the soldier will take a lot of work, Carey said. Carey is thinking about setting up a kickstart campaign to help fund the restoration. The work involves not only taking the soldier apart piece by piece, but also rebuilding and recarving some parts, he said. Carey has hired carpenters in the winter to make sure that the structure is solid and will last at least another 40 years, he said, adding that the Pakans “know that it'll be well taken care of.”
Carey plans to unveil the wooden soldier to the Pingree Grove community next spring when it is restored.
“We're going to be really proud to give it our new home,” Carey said. “It will become part of this town.”