This piece was written in conjunction with the article “Arnie Lillo Re-Creates James-Younger Gang’s Minnesota.” Click on the link to read the full article and see examples of Lillo’s work.
The metal skills might have come naturally for Arnie Lillo, but history is another story.
“I didn’t have a clue about this,” Lillo says. “This is something that just happened. History was my poorest subject in school. I didn’t like it. Now I wish I had really buckled down and studied it. Now I get to do the research.”
A sheet-metal journeyman, Lillo had worked in welding, cutting, grinding and fabricating. He escaped to farm country after spending time in Mankato. “My neighbor didn’t like me welding in my garage,” he says.
He had no plans to enter the theme-park business.
Lillo’s depiction of the James-Younger Gang’s ill-fated foray into Minnesota may be complete, but his work is far from done. He’s still making weathervanes and shaping metal for other projects—like the 29-foot, 850-pound weathervane to replace the one a tornado ripped off the county courthouse in St. Peter—and he seems to be hooked on history. Behind his farm, he’s fabricating a life-size Indian village. Then there’s the portable jail cell he brings to parades, not to mention the miniatures he sells.
“I’ll get to the shop in the morning,” he says of his work schedule, “and work 10 hours a day. Sometimes 12. Sometimes till midnight. Sometimes I’ll work till 2 in the morning. I hate to quit when doing something interesting.”