If you use a wooden stick to stir the cream into your coffee at the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Cafe or at Billings Mobil in Waterbury, that stick might become part of a historic building.
Or, at least, a scale model of one.
Harold McNaulty has been collecting these single-use sticks since the 1970s and using them to make small structures — a church, a covered railroad bridge, train garage, railroad water tower, an outhouse.
McNaulty’s structures are made of wood and glue, with a few small exceptions, and the attention to detail is uncanny.
And, he says he does it all from memory.
McNaulty brought some of his creations to the cafe last week and spread the structures across a wood and glass table in the visitors section. The display beneath the glass tells the history of the Waterbury train station; the crafts above tell stories of their own.
McNaulty was born in Middlesex, but moved to Waterbury when his “mother got rid of us kids,” he said. He had four brothers and three sisters.
“I lived with some folks down here since I was 7,” he said, pointing toward Batchelder Street.
McNaulty now lives on Guptil Road with his wife, Joann, but remembered walking by the railroad water tower every day on his way to school.
“I’d walk up and down the track and walk on the rails,” he said. “I could walk a long way down them rails before I’d fall down.”
The church is a near-mirror of Waterbury Congregational Church on North Main Street, where “I never missed a Sunday, so I got a Bible with my name in gold on the front.”
McNaulty had an auction barn in town back in the 1970s, but sold tools and other wares at flea markets once the auction business ran dry, and his wife would sell knives and swords, he said. He still attends, but now sells spreading knives, Adirondack chairs and soap boxes.
He brings the church model along with him, and tells people, “I know you didn’t go to church today, so I brought the church to you.” He said he gets a good laugh.
His model outhouse is a two-seater, with a working door and hole to boot.
“I showed that to a lady and how she did laugh,” McNaulty said. She was probably about 80 and said, “The last time I used one of them was in Alaska.”
The train engine garage and the covered bridge are based on buildings in White River Junction and Wolcott, respectively, and he built those just because he likes them.
He has a special affinity for the bridge. He built it entirely out of his friends’ stir sticks, which he collected after they met for coffee at the local gas station every morning.
McNaulty isn’t sure why he chose to use stir sticks, or why he worked so hard to make the structures so intricately detailed. He just likes doing it.
“One guy said, ‘Why don’t you use toothpicks?’” McNaulty responded, “Are you kidding?”
It already takes him years to build each structure. The process is simple yet painstaking, requiring precision and patience for every piece. Aside from the train engine garage — which was built off a cardboard base — the structure of each model is built from the ground up with carpenter’s glue and stir sticks. Each stick is measured and cut with a device McNaulty built, whether that be frame beams or shingles.
He counted 2,400 individual pieces in the church roof.
“I couldn’t sit there and do that,” Joann said, but “it’s fun to watch them as it develops.”
McNaulty checks his two sources of stir sticks every day. He has to resort to new sticks occasionally, but prefers the used ones.
“I like ’em used,” he said. “If I use the new ones... I put them in coffee, black coffee, and let them sit all day and all night.”
Joann said he only works on his models only during the winter, giving him something to do for the cold months.
“He likes to do this because he doesn’t like to watch television. It’s all murder stories,” Joann said. “It keeps him busy.”
“It’s really a lot of fun,” McNaulty said. Recently, he stayed up until 2 in the morning working on his current project, the Old Round Church in Richmond. Its frame is mostly done, then the wall will be built up, and then another layer to replicate the siding, and then the roof and windows and steeple.
McNaulty will take his time: “I figure it’ll take all this winter and all next winter.”