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Combining one part Cigar store Indian and one part antique slot machines, Dick DeLong, of Johnsonburg, has made one very interesting full-time career.
DeLong may be best known for his Indian antique slot machines, but he does any image requested of him, from football players to Mickey and Minnie Mouse, from knights to Betty Boop.
DeLong, with help from his son, Todd DeLong, of Wilcox, Jim Hall, of Ridgway, and Tony Lombrana, of Johnsonburg, create the images out of basswood, the same type of wood from which cigar store Indians were made.
In the past, DeLong used to cut his own trees. Now, he gets his lumber from St. Marys or New York state.
He said the wood is kiln dried between 6 and 8 percent, saying at this level of moisture the wood will last forever.
After the pieces are cut, they are glued together to form the required shape and laminated.
All pieces are roughed out with a chainsaw, then further carved with chainsaws and chisels.
Jim Hall has the task of sanding the pieces to perfection. He said his greatest pride is having the surface so smooth the airbrush paint sticks with no trouble at all, giving each piece a smooth, flawless look.
DeLong said each piece takes approximately 200 hours, depending on difficulty.
"Each individual hair is carved," he said. "The hardest thing to carve is an earŠThere's a lot of detail in an ear."
Todd DeLong specializes in the arms, while DeLong does the heads.
Aside from sanding, Hall also provides leather work for the Indians.
"We all have our own special things," Hall said.
War bonnets for the Indians come from Native Americans on reservations.
Todd has been working with his father for 15 years, while Hall has been adding his talent for seven years. Hall became involved after a friend of his, Del Decker, who used to do the sanding, passed away.
DeLong's uncle, Wilson McCaulee, did leather work until he died.
Most pieces are made by request, and the biggest seller continues to be Indians.
"They're just beautiful figures," said Hall.
Some of the more challenging pieces done over the years include Louie Armstrong playing a trumpet, a man with crossed legs and a seated cowboy.
"We like a challenge," DeLong said.
Some of the pieces the workers recall with the most fondness include Benjamin Franklin, Uncle Remus, the Munsters and a Dachshund dog.
Due to the high quality of the work., DeLong's pieces are sent all over the country, with people hearing about them through world of mouth.
"I don't do any advertising," he said.
Celebrities have contacted DeLong and every once in a while he will see one of the pieces on television or in a movie.
About three months ago, one of the cowboys was seen on a news program.
"They go everywhere," DeLong said. "They've been shipped all over the world."
To no one's surprise, many of the antique slot machine figures can be found in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
He said the pieces are legal to own in homes for collection purposes, as long as the slot machines are more than 25 years old. They are not legal for gambling.
Some collectors have 15-18 pieces, said DeLong.
"I was always interested in slot machines," said DeLong, noting he began working on the machines in 1964 as a hobby.
He still does repair work on slot machines, and he does buy them from all over for use with the figures.
The job became full-time in 1980. DeLong said it is very satisfying to start with raw materials and end with a piece of art.
DeLong estimates close to 1,000 figures have been made over the years.
"We're the only ones in the world who do this," said DeLong, who used to attend a lot of shows to promote the figures.
DeLong estimates close to 1,000 figures have been made over the years. "We're the only ones in the world who do this," said DeLong, who used to attend a lot of shows to promote the figures. One show in Chicago provided DeLong with one of the most satisfying experiences of his life. A mother had her adult blind son feel the figures after she had described them to him. The man felt the pieces before telling DeLong they were beautiful. "That's probably the ultimate in compliments," he said. DeLong said each piece is 100 percent perfect every step of the way, with only the highest quality materials being used. Aside from slot machine figures, the group of workers also make cabinets/stands for the slots.