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Selling wooden canes and sticks for smiles
HINKLEY â€¢ If you have driven along state Highway 58 in Hinkley, youâ€™ve probably spotted Will Mehegan with his truck parked on the side of the road and an American flag flapping in the wind.
For the past five years, the Hinkley resident has spent about six hours a day, four days a week, sitting on a lawn chair in the desert heat. He waits patiently for drivers to pull over to buy his walking sticks and canes. If he is lucky, he will sell two to four a day.
â€œSixty percent of the people who are buying are people who have passed me by for some times weeks, days or even months on the way to and from Vegas and decided this was the day to stop,â€ he said. â€œThe other 40 percent are returned customers.â€
Mehegan orders dried wooden sticks of sassafras, dogwood, hickory, birch and hawthorn from places, such as Ireland, Australia, India and the Swiss Alps. He spends about three days hand filing and sanding each branch, then applying several coats of lacquer finish.
â€œEach wood has its own density,â€ he said. â€œFor a lady, I would offer her sassafras or a dogwood, because they are lighter but still a very strong stick. They donâ€™t want to be carrying a heavy stick at the end of the day. If you are not a large person, it can be very cumbersome.â€
Hinkley resident Jean Burns stopped by on a Thursday afternoon to drop off 11 Dick Francis novels for Mehegan to read.
After seeing Meheganâ€™s display about four years ago, Burns stopped to buy a sassafras walking stick for herself and a hickory walking stick for her husband.
â€œYou use it to stabilize you, because the desert is uneven,â€ she said.
Mehegan walks with a sumac root cane and a dogwood stick, because of his back injury and knee pain. He worked as a barrier maintenance operator in the U.S. Air Force in 1977.
â€œWhen I first came back to Victorville, they decided I was disabled and I couldnâ€™t work anymore,â€ he said. â€œI was severely depressed because of it, and I needed a cane to walk with. And at the VA clinic they put me on this ugly metal cane that just made me feel sick.â€
In 2007, Mehegan met a man named Raul who was selling wooden walking sticks and canes at a farmersâ€™ market in Victorville. Mehegan bought a cane, and later became friends with Raul who taught him to file, sand and finish the wooden walking canes and sticks.
Mehegan was previously spotted selling in Apple Valley, Victorville, Hesperia and outside of Silver Lakes. Though he was chased out of those towns, he has found a home in Hinkley.
One 75-year-old woman stopped by with a pained look on her face, but left with a smile after picking out a cane that fit her height, Mehegan said. Another man danced with joy after replacing his metal cane with a wooden cane carved like a wizardâ€™s face.
â€œThis saves my soul sitting in this little spot in the desert,â€ he said. â€œIt made me realize there are people out there who need some help and maybe I can still make a difference.â€