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St. Gregor’s metal house in the sky


ST. GREGOR — A gyrocopter, airplane models, a gnome village, hunting cabin, rock carvings and more, all unmatched by the centerpiece on the property – a metal ranger station style structure built a decade ago that Wilfred Moellenbeck calls his “penthouse.”

It was the 1960s and then 16-year-old Moellenbeck had dropped out of school. His family farm needed machinery, and since he didn’t have the money for it, he began metalwork.

“That kind of evolved into different things, and then other people wanted stuff so I started building things for other people,” Moellenbeck said. “We just got done building two special machines for Connor’s Manufacturing for their plastic’s division.”

Today, his metalworking has evolved into a hobby on its own, and Moellenbeck spends two hours after supper each weekday working on one of his pieces which includes metalworking, painting or rock carving.

All scraps are made useful, with some being turned into metal trees that decorate the property, taking various forms and shapes. Each tree takes him a couple evening sessions.

“Everything fell into place and everything worked together. I had so many hobbies I didn’t know which to do first,” Moellenbeck said, adding that the painting and rock carving would begin in the 1990s.

“Everything is on my spare time since I have a full-time job.”

Weekends are for spending time with his wife inside the penthouse.

“We spend every weekend up there,” he said. “I don’t go out to the lakes, I just walk across the yard to the penthouse… No phones up there, nothing, so nobody can contact me up there.”

The penthouse was a two-year build.

Inside, almost everything is made from hand including the bed frame, bar stools, coffee table, sculptures and even a several metre high metal clock that would not be out of place in a steampunk world.

To build the clock, Moellenbeck took apart a small wooden model.

“I made it bigger and totally different, not even close to the same clock. I never stick with plans,” he said.

“The part I love doing is making tools to make the things… Whatever you need you make, most jobs you need special tools. So first you make the tools, my furniture up there I had to make a special tool to roll the metal part.”

A small model eagle he bought is on display within the penthouse, the base for what he designed the archway leading to the penthouse off of. This was a project he said took three years to work up the nerve to try to replicate on a large scale, and a build that only took three months.

On the coffee table sits a framed photo of Moellenbeck’s personal hero – Albert Einstein, another grade school dropout. At the bottom, Moellenbeck’s favourite Einstein quote is written, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“He never had nothing either, and just look at what he became,” Moellenbeck pointed out.

Career wise, Moellenbeck farms and works in his metal shop on a commission basis. While he used to sell his pieces, he since stopped uncommissioned work so he could focus on creating things for himself.

Outside of metalwork, his other hobby is airplanes and flying – something which often makes its way back into his art through various metal airplane sculptures including an Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow, functioning gyrocopters, and a sculpture beside the penthouse bed.

Moellenbeck started flying in 1969.

“I always wanted to fly ever since I was five years old,” he said.

“I bought the airplane, I hired an instructor, got my license, then I bought a tank for the airplane, strapped a tank on, I started spraying.”

Since then, he has built two gyrocopters, including one with his sons about two decades ago.

“I always had fun living, I always enjoyed airplanes and I always wanted to fly, so I pursued that project.”