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Published December 24, 2010, 12:00 AM

Unique sleigh gets new life

ND man has antique restored
LaMoure, N.D. - Curvy and mysterious, it has no identifying markings, no brass plate, no etchings on its wooden body except for the number 23.

LaMoure, N.D. - Curvy and mysterious, it has no identifying markings, no brass plate, no etchings on its wooden body except for the number 23.

Walter Kratz doesn’t know where his antique horse-drawn sleigh was made. For all he knows, the cutter could have been assembled in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole.

“It’s something you don’t find around here,” the retired farmer said at his rural LaMoure home. “A lot of hand-carving on it. Kind of unreal.”

The Missouri sleigh specialist who restored the

two-seater for Kratz also finds it intriguing.

Jack Bollinger, who has restored more than 70 antique sleighs at his Kringle Sleigh Co. shop 25 miles south of St. Louis, said he’s never seen the kind of smooth, hand-made relief carvings found in the sleigh’s poplar body panels.

“It’s the first one I’ve ever observed like that,” he said. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful sleigh.”

Kratz, 77, has been around horse-drawn sleighs and sleds throughout his life.

The lifelong Dickey County resident was born into a farm family that raised hogs, cattle, dairy cows and grain.

Horses were used for chores such as raking hay in the summer or hauling manure in the winter, and also for recreation.

As he got older, Kratz bought fancy-stepping Hackney ponies and powerful Haflinger horses to pull a variety of sleighs.

He purchased the mystery sleigh about three years ago from a woman in rural Richland County.

Larry Harmsen, another LaMoure resident who also owns an impressive collection of antique sleighs, referred Kratz to Bollinger for the restoration.

Bollinger sanded the wood bare and refinished it in its original color scheme, an odd but complementary mix of green, burgundy and brown tones.

A professional artist from Indiana hand-painted white, green and gold pinstripes on the sleigh, and Bollinger’s wife, Lynn, reupholstered the seat with expensive mohair covering by Ralph Lauren.

While the sleigh’s origin is unknown, Bollinger said the curled metal tails on the solid-wood runners suggest a Russian design. And, seeing as how many Germans from Russia settled in the Dakotas and areas north into Canada, it’s possible the sleigh was built in that area, he said.

“Some of those guys were excellent craftsmen,” he said.

With four daughters, 13 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, Kratz has given his fair share of sleigh rides. He and his wife, Donna, took the cutter for a ride before having it restored. (She has a picture to prove it).

Donna Kratz said she initially joked that they shouldn’t restore the sleigh because then they wouldn’t want to ride in it – and, so far, they haven’t.

That’s understandable, given the several thousand dollars Walter Kratz spent on its restoration.

“I don’t want to get it scratched up,” he said. “I told my wife, I guess we’ll have to use it one time.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528