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Bill Sturm took one of his handmade canes out of a corner at his South Toledo home and started beating the edge of his couch.
A piece unexpectedly flew off, startling the 59-year-old Toledo man. But when he realized that it wasn't his craftsmanship that gave way but just the rubber tip, Mr. Sturm continued his demonstration for a visitor of what he feels is the necessary strength of walking canes.
"I'd be very surprised if that broke," he said, quickly fitting the rubber piece back on the end of the cane. "I'm going to make a sturdy enough cane that if you hit a table, all that would happen is that you'd move the table."
Known in the area as "Ponytail" because of the long strip of gray hair that falls down his back, Mr. Sturm started making canes about five years ago after a spill down a flight of stairs left him with a banged-up leg and hip that made it difficult to walk. He was prescribed an aluminum cane - one that never felt quite right - which after only a few days was rendered useless.
Initially, he admitted, a hard bang against a table weakened the cane. But the metal walking aid collapsed completely after the slender man lost his balance and tried using it to catch the full weight of his body.
That's when he decided to make his own walking cane.
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Using wood from large tree branches and roots found near his South Toledo home, the retired shoe cobbler began carving out canes. They weren't necessarily fancy, but he made them to fit and he made them to last.
With a few power tools, five coats of polyurethane, and about eight hours of labor, Mr. Sturm turns an ordinary piece of wood into a cane.
Along the way, word of mouth resulted in plenty of customers looking for a walking aid that they could rely on.
To date, he estimates that he's made more than 300 canes, some for friends, others as special orders. Most of them he sells from along the shoulder of South Avenue, just east of Detroit Avenue and a short walk from where he lives on Shasta Drive.
That's where Linda Greer often sees him, sitting with a cigarette and an iced tea. Ms. Greer, who works at the nearby Toledo Heights Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, said she has spoken to Mr. Sturm about his canes because her father builds them as well.
"People who drive by him come in here [to the library] and ask, 'Who's the guy with the canes?'●" she said. "He's out there, even when it's cold. Then he'll come in here to take a break."
Below an eastbound road sign alerting drivers to a playground, Mr. Sturm has tacked a hand-made sign advertising "homemade canes." On sunny spring days and during the summer he can be found with several of his canes on display.
Friend Scott McPherson said he has big plans for Mr. Sturm's little business. Noticing that people are willing to spend $35 to $100 for the canes - although Mr. Sturm will sell them cheaper if a person really needs one - Mr. McPherson has turned his thoughts to the Internet.
"I'm trying to get him to sell them on eBay," he said.
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