Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cullman stonemason Leo Schwaiger shares history

Leo Schwaiger, left, listens as Dr. Bill Peinhardt, historical society vice president, discusses the base of the Col. Cullmann statue, built by Schwaiger and his brother.

Brother Joseph Zoettl had already died when one of his creations at St. Bernard Abbey's Ave Maria Grotto was damaged by a falling tree. So stonemason Leo Schwaiger, who had previously been observed by Zoettle building the monastery's church, was called in to do the repair work.

It seems Zoettle's Tower of Babel had fallen victim to the storm-felled tree.

"I told them at the time, 'God still doesn't like that thing,'" Schwaiger said at Sunday's meeting of the Cullman County Historical Society in Cullman, Alabama. That was in the early 1960s, and the 85-year-old has been asked to fix the miniature tower yet again. Work on The Grotto's gift shop damaged the figure a second time. "I told them, "God still doesn't like that thing!"

Schwaiger and his family have been building things for decades in Cullman. It started with his father, Leo Sr., and continues with his grandsons. Leo Sr. helped lay the stones at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church. Leo Jr. and his brothers helped their father build several homes and businesses around town from various rocks, but mostly cut sandstone found in the Cullman area.

His father built the archway over the main entrance to the Cullman City Cemetery from poured concrete. Schwaiger noted that his father invented a concrete mixer in the late 1920s that was built on the bed of a Model T truck. He sent photos to Henry Ford, who wrote back asking for more. The elder Schwaiger complied, only to find his invention patented by Ford -- with no credit given.

Later, he invented the Schwaiger locknut (pictured, left). Ford was interested in it, too, but Schwaiger told him no thanks, patenting it himself and selling it straight to auto parts suppliers.

See one of Schwaiger's humorous creations on our Facebook page.

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