Arnold Heath, 83, of Allamuchy, is a local woodworker, expert tracker and self-made man who once resided nearby.
He’s also famously known as “Sparky”. A good friend gave him the name after he got hit by lightning, not once, but twice. Sparky had big brown eyes and after this accident his eye color changed to blue. He enjoys music and dancing and is often seen on the dance floor all night.
Sparky grew up in Rockaway, where he met his beloved wife, Charlotte. They were married 60 years before Charlotte passed away. They married young. Charlotte was sixteen and he was eighteen. They raised five boys together – Walter, Charles, George, Arnie and Shawn. “My boys are my friends, and we all grew up together,” Sparky explained.
He also often lived in very rural settings throughout the area. Sparky taught his boys how to be hard working, self-sufficient men. They hunted, fished, gardened, foraged for herbs and roots, as well as worked on cars, rode horses, and trained bird dogs.
The family trapped Muskrat and Mink in many of the streams from Rockaway to the Delaware Water Gap. Sparky, an expert trapper, helped the Rockaway police capture criminals by tracking them through the woods.
When his boys were old enough to work, they helped their dad in his tree business. They grew up strong and confident. The boys helped dad in his stone business, crafting beautiful stone walls and fireplaces. “I didn’t send them to college, but I educated them all.” he boasted.
Sparky’s love for animals inspired him to train hunting dogs and work as an assistant to a veterinarian for seven years. He enjoyed this work but longed for exciting tree work and stonework. Sparky always provided for his family. If he needed work, he would knock on doors asking homeowners if they wanted a tree cut down or some landscaping done.
Sparky made and sold hundreds of grape vine wreaths that he and his wife made in the winter months. Together, they sold antiques and collectables at flea markets.
A true artist, Sparky made time to express himself through woodworking. “I have spent most of my young life in the woods, my carving comes naturally to me.” Sparky said. His collection of walking sticks was given to his youngest son Shawn, who proudly displays them in his home.
Sparky picks just the right stick, usually White Maple. This is a strong wood and if the bark is stripped off right away it comes off easily. No reference material is used. Sparky just looks at the piece of wood and sees the design manifest as he starts to carve. The sticks are carved, then stained with instant coffee.
Coffee brings out the wood grain and enhancing the color. Each walking stick is unique and are priceless heirlooms. To finish the sticks, they are sprayed with polyurethane. This process involves sanding the stick with 150 and then 220-grit sandpaper. Many layers of polyurethane and sanding ensure the smooth look of the sticks.
Some sticks are accented with acrylics, like the ‘Totem Pole’ walking stick. ‘The Storyteller’ has each carving depicting a scene in his life. Some walking sticks have one hundred hours of work in them.
The ‘Santa Stick’ represents Sparky’s seasonal job at the Rockaway Mall where he played Santa for 21 years. Sparky’s big blue eyes and long beard, died white, made him the perfect Santa. This led to his appearing as one of the Guest Santas on the ‘Letterman Show.’
A quote from Sparky “If I wrote a book, it would be called Chicken Today…. Feathers Tomorrow.” It wryly means sometimes you have plenty of money for a chicken dinner and sometimes you just have the feathers.
MB Journe, Contributing Writer
My name is Marybeth Journe, I feel blessed to be living in this part of New Jersey. I have enjoyed this community taking advantage of the lakes and woods. Always supporting the local businesses that make this my home. As a local artist myself, I know many of our residence if not by name, at least by sight. I feel comfortable interviewing others. I have worked for The Paulinskill Valley Chronical where I provided articles, photographs and billing. I consider myself an artist, journalist, naturalist, gardener and a teacher for the YMCA Camp Mason. I look forward to the work ahead