The 13-acre property south of Mankato just off County Road 16/Stoltzman Road is filled with Arnie Lillo’s metal creations. There, you’ll find Jesse James, American soldiers, and landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Eiffel Tower prominently featured. Toward the back, however, is a new addition, one with a biblical origin: Noah’s Ark or, more precisely, Arnie’s Ark.
The 46 pairs of metal animals created by Lillo, with colorful paint jobs added by friends including Robyn Block, lead toward the woods that encircle the display. At the back is a colorful arching rainbow – complete with a “pot of gold” at the end – and a unique wooden recreation of the ark.
A Day of Fun
From 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday, August 22, Lillo is inviting people to visit Arnie Lillo Creations free of charge, an opportunity not only to see his works but to hear the story of Noah’s Ark, enjoy the work of various crafters and get food provided by food vendors.
“There will be casual visiting and looking at stuff,” he says simply. “They’re welcome to walk around and look at stuff.” Social distancing will be easy, and family members may wear masks if they feel more comfortable.
Work on the 1/125th scale replica of Noah’s Ark began in February. On Tuesday of this week, he was putting the top on the wood creation before sanding, staining, and sealing it and installing it under the rainbow just a couple of days before the event.
Based on dimensions given in the Bible – 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits tall – Lillo crafted the ark 20 feet long by 5 feet wide and 3 feet tall. A cubit, by the way, was typically about 18 inches, or the distance from a man’s elbow to the tip of his fingers.
The Colorado blue spruce material fulfills the definition of “gopher wood” because it contains sap, which was used for water proofing. It’s also made from trees he planted about 25 years ago, harvested, ran through a sawmill he purchased, and then kiln dried.
The interior also follows biblical description, including three decks of animals.
“I’ve got cut-outs of all the animals I could think of, 2-by-2, and they’re in pens,” he said. “They had to be in pens on the ark to control them.”
Although the ark is enclosed, it’s still possible to view the animals through windows cut into the top, although in Noah’s case, God told him to include just one door and one window.
The ark is an electrical marvel, with four buttons that control lights on a circular representation of Noah and his wife, plus children and their spouses, and also illuminate the rest of the interior. Other buttons trigger a short recording of the Biblical ark story and Arnie’s Ark story. In addition to these recordings, Pastor Rudy Maurer from St. John Lutheran Church in Good Thunder will recount the Noah’s Ark story on the grounds throughout the day, with volunteers alerting attendees when it will happen.
“I built this whole shop by myself,” Lillo said. “I wired it, poured the cement, the whole works. 100 percent. But finish work I don’t like…I stay away from that. This is not finish work” he says of the ark. “I’m sure Noah didn’t have it all sanded.”
A Labor of Love
This week, when Lillo turned 82 years old, his friend Denny Savick was busy on the grounds repainting many of the pieces solid black. This is done every two years or so, Lillo said, though he predicted Savick’s current touch up could last five years. Although he charges nothing for admission any day between 7 am and 9 pm, according to a sign near his replica of the Eiffel Tower, friends insist that he put out donation buckets. Money raised goes primary toward paint, he said.
For Lillo, payment comes from people enjoying his work, which has a strong sentimental value for him.
“Each [metal creation] has a special meaning. When I think about doing something, first it comes to my mind and I think about it. Then I go to the computer and get it all drawn up. … Then I cut out all the pieces and you weld it together.
“You build it piece-by-piece, so when you get it all done it’s actually old to me, because it’s been in my mind for a week or two weeks,” he said. “When somebody comes for the first time and sees everything, I wish I could see it like they do.”