In those prehistoric days before television, a kid on his grandfather's porch swing could be anything he wanted to be. With just a bit of imagination he could sail out of Newport in pursuit of America's Cup, or stalk the skies of Germany as Billy Bishop looking for the Red Baron. In the trusty swing one summer, he played Fred Frame and won the 500-Mile Race. Unheard-of speeds were attained before the laterally moving swing pulled loose from the ceiling and crashed wildly through the porch railing. Changing lifestyles, modern architecture and television made the porch swing nearly obsolete in the intervening years.
Now, happily, Vernon Mefford is changing all that...For Mefford the porch swing is an art form. In his shop on Ind. 46 east of Bloomington he has created the ultimate vehicle to ease tensions, produce tranquility and perhaps encourge imagination. Mefford, 37, came to Bloomington to attend Indiana University after running a body shop in Highland Ind. for five years. I was a freshman at the age of 31," he said, " I had never been to college, and felt I ought to go. I got in and made a strong C average." A divorce about that time changed his goals. He bought a house east of town and discovered working in the yard and garden was good therapy.
"I decided I'd have a porch swing. I checked around and the swings you could buy were an insult to my intelligence and sense of workmanship," he said. "I designed and made a swing. I did it in a selfish way, and to sell them was not my goal at all. I just wanted a swing," he said. The next thing he knew, though, he was making similar swings for his neighbors. Then he put a couple in the front yard as advertisements. Now he is 10 orders behind. For a year Mefford worked in a body shop in Indianapolis, and when he needed a few extra dollars he'd make a swing. "I just thought I had a hobby, doing something I enjoy, and I could sell a few and get my money back. "I was cautious about being in business, but about the second or third year I thought I should look at the possibility. "It was beyond my wildest dreams that there were people out there like me who wanted something better that you can buy at a hardware store," he said. The job in Indianapolis ended, and Mefford returned to Bloomington, added a garage to the house, bought more machinery, and opened a business that has doubled in production each year.
"I don't know how many I've made, but I think I have swings in 20 or 30 states. The last two years I have taken it more seriously and showed the swings at the Monroe County Fair and the Flower and Patio Show in Indianapolis, " he said. One thing is the orthopedic design and the shaped arm rests that offer comfort. Another feature is that the swing is a beautiful piece of woodworking in oak, ash, walnut or cherry, or a mixture of wood colors and textures. "I haven't made a lot of money. I am not trying to get rich, but I like to think I have made a lot of people happy," Mefford said.
By Bill Pittman
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