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EUREKA- A group of veterans in Eureka are working on building a piece of American history, while learning to be craftsmen in the process.
Eric Hollenbech, the Co-Owner of the Blue Ox School and Historic Village, was contacted by a craftsman from Arizona earlier this year. That craftsman, Jack Feather, was tasked with building a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s hearse for a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s burial. The ceremony will be held at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois in early May. Feather asked Hollenbech if Blue Ox Millworks could contribute and Hollenbech used the request as an opportunity to start a veterans craftsman program.
"Then Ii took the project to the College of the Redwoods and they thought it was a great project and they had veterans down here in three days," said Hollenbech.
The Blue Ox School for Veterans was then established. At the school, veterans learn how to be craftsman through hands-on projects. Some veterans who attend the school say the experience has been life changing.
“As I come here, I feel useful, I feel like I belong here, whereas over the past ten years I've just been hiding from everything, hiding from conflict, and just not really knowing what to do with myself and now this is somewhere where I can apply all of my dedication and diligence,” said Cody Drury, who served in the Army from 2002 until 2004.
On Tuesday, veterans sand casted aluminum molds for the hearse decorations. The group is only using one picture of the hearse and the exact measurement of the back wheels to create the frame of the hearse. Veterans in Kansas and Arizona are building the rest of the hearse.
"It's a once in a lifetime thing. It'll never happen again. This hearse will never be built again. Nobody's going to ever make one," Hollenbech said.
Veterans in the group say they're proud to be working on this project.
"I'm incredibly proud to be a part of rebuilding our American history, of one of our greatest leaders of this country. It's a spectacular opportunity and it lets me showcase the skills that I'm learning," Drury said.
"Hopefully, when my son has kids and they have kids and stuff like that, it's still going to be preserved in way so he can see it and be like, 'Oh, my daddy worked on that," said Andrew Olufsen, who served in the Marine Corps from 2002-2006.
At the ceremony, the Blue Ox School for Veterans members will be honored as the craftsmen who built the hearse.
The original hearse was destroyed in a stable fire in 1878. Following the ceremony, the hearse replica will be permanently displayed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.