All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2003

Sick of being sick with MS

He turns to wood carving, even makes his own tools

October 11, 2003
By BoNhia Lee
Syracuse Post-Standard

When Francis Strail got sick more than eight years ago, doctors told him he had no chance of recovering.

They said he would not be able to work again. And by now, Strail was supposed to be using a wheelchair.

There still is no cure for multiple sclerosis. But today, Strail, 40, of Van Buren is still mobile and working harder than ever.

Strail is up by 5 a.m. every day making strip wood canoes, Victorian-style rocking horses and smaller items he carves from wood.

He even makes his own tools to adapt to his condition.

"I had a yearlong pity party and got tired of sitting around," Strail said.

Strail first knew something was wrong, when he started to lose his balance and couldn't write his name anymore. First doctors told Strail he had Parkinson's Disease, but later corrected their diagnosis

MS is a neurological disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Medication can help slow the symptoms of the disease.

"I was miserable," Strail said. "What do you do when the doctors tell you you'll never work again and there's no hope for a cure?"

Strail had worked as a handyman, but that was no longer an option. Worried about paying bills and losing his home on Perry Road, Strail convinced himself to find something he could do even though his hands were shaky and he sometimes lost his balance while walking.

Strail searched the Internet for ideas and decided to try his hands at wood carving. He had worked with air conditioning, heating, electricity and plumbing before, but had never done anything this artistic.

"I made good money then, but it wasn't for me," Strail said. "This is more for me. Every ounce of this is me."

From the first cut to the final paint, every inch of Strail's 14-to 16-foot-long cedar wood canoes and antique rocking horses comes from an image in his head.

Strail's first canoe was so easy to make that it was almost boring. He made it entirely from one type of wood and decided it would be interesting to make his next boat out of a variety of wood.

The first antique horse Strail made was what he called an overweight donkey with a big butt. He had no clue it would turn into a rocking horse worth $4,500.

Strail makes one horse and one canoe a year. Much of his work centers on smaller carvings, such as small wooden sailboats and wooden ducks. But don't ask him to build tables or anything that requires measuring.

Strail can't hold a pencil or a measuring tape, which is why he carves wood instead of putting it together.

"With the canoes you don't have to measure anything," Strail said. "You take away what's needed."

He made his own chisels and other tools larger than conventional ones, with firmer handles to fit his shaky hands. He used to cut himself using conventional tools because they were too small and slipped.

He sells his goods to craft stores or to people who hear about his work through word of mouth. But he is considering selling his works on computer sites to reach a broader market.

So far his venture has worked. Between the money he makes from his craft and Social Security, Strail is able to support himself.

Jill Longeretta of Elbridge has known Strail for three years and said he can fabricate anything he needs. The only thing he needs help on is paying his bills, shopping for groceries and freezing food.

"He can carve these beautiful wonderful things, but as far as writing his checks or writing with a pen or pencil, he can't do it," Longeretta said.

Copyright © 2003, The Post-Standard