SMALL TOWNS: The amazing scrap metal toymaker from Sherwood
CALUMET COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - For nearly two decades, a Calumet County man has been busy turning scrap metal into toys. He has made hundreds of them.
This week in Small Towns, we travel to Sherwood to see these artistic creations.
Inside Milan Deprez’s garage, you’ll find a toy making workshop.
“I got my welders and milling machine and lathe and those are my tools, tool box from work that I brought home,” explains Milan.
And the one requirement for every toy Milan makes?
“It’s got to be metal, yeah,” says Milan.
As in metal waiting to be re-purposed, like turning an old Sawzall into an airplane. The airplane is Milan’s latest creation, and the result of a passionate hobby he started in 2004.
Just as he was about to call it a career after 42 years as an auto mechanic, he built this tractor and took it to work.
“They said Milan you’re on to something, this is artwork. Really I said? Yeah, not just toy making, it’s artwork. I had this old electric drill that reminded me of the front end of a tractor so I cut it up and I made a tractor and the thing kind of took off,” recalls Milan.
Milan was hooked, on taking power tools and kitchen utensil, and turning them into toys. He started with tractors, but soon branched out to just about anything with a motor and/or wheels. “Trucks and Army stuff and cement trucks, hot rods.
Usually I pick out one thing, like the front of a tractor, an old drill that looks like the front of a tractor, or a potato ricer, there’s one up here, and I go from there and I just kind of, it just kind of evolves,” says Milan.
While the metal may direct him, Milan’s creative mind and eye are simply unique. One of his favorite displays is a camping scene with an RV and a boat. “The wheels are overhead door rollers, the boat is a steam iron and the motor is a crankshaft from a weed eater motor, and then we’ve got the table and chairs, the table is a plunger from a potato ricer,” explains Milan With his imagination on overdrive, Milan says it’s hard to resist certain temptations around his home.
But his wife makes sure he does.
“See the camper up here, the old toaster, there’s one on our kitchen counter, was given to use for our wedding anniversary from her godparents 58 years ago and it’s still there. I did find this one at a resale store because I’ve made a couple of them now,” says Milan.
“So you’re eyeing the toaster here?” I ask.
“Yeah, but it don’t quit,” says Milan with a hearty chuckle.
Milan relies on friends, who stop by and add to his scrap metal pile.
“But I also got places that I shop, St. Vinny’s, Goodwill, and some of the antique malls too, they got like meat grinders and things like that, they’re reasonable,” says Milan.
Unless he’s at his cabin in Door County, or out ice fishing or sturgeon spearing, Milan spends at least a few hours a day working on his latest piece of art. “It’s kind of strange, but if I don’t have one going something is missing,” says Milan.
On every toy, Milan engraves his name, date and the number. “I believe it’s March 11, 2004, number one, the piece I’m working on now is 278,” says Milan.
Each year, Milan takes a sample of his collection to about a half dozen toy shows around Northeast Wisconsin. “I get asked a lot of questions you know, do I sleep at night dreaming this stuff up,” says Milan.
Over the years, he’s only sold a few, instead making sure his three kids, six grandkids and friends have their supply.
“I’m kind of proud to say I’ve got coast to coast covered, because I got a nephew in New Jersey that’s got one, friend and relation in California, daughter and son-in-law have a condo now in Florida, got some down there, they’re all over the country,” says Milan with a smile.
If you’re wondering how long Milan spends creating one of his toys, it varies from 12-14 hours all the way up to 50 hours. At the age of 80, he figures he has plenty of time to make many more.
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