How many types of fish scalers do you think exist in the world? Vernon Jungroth, who lives near Fergus Falls, knows there are at least 140. He has that many. Collecting scalers was kind of an offshoot of a couple of other fishing related hobbies; making lures and carving and painting fish themselves that Jungroth started spending his time doing following retirement. About 10 years ago he started collecting scalers and pretty soon his son and a truck-driving friend started to help him with his collection. Now he has roughly 300 scalers, if you count all of them, including a few he considers “suspect” in that they could be used for scaling fish but might have been originally designed for another purpose. He even has one that is painted yellow with words in Swedish on it. Jungroth takes pride in the depth of his collection and it is almost getting to be a game for people to bring him a scaler model he does not have. “My son brought me this one,” he said holding up a shiny model that had a handle one could pull out that had a knife blade. “I told him I already had three others just like it,” said Jungroth, grinning. He has the scalers hanging from his workshop wall and looks at it more as a novelty than anything of value. And yet he prizes each new addition. He has what are essentially scrapers of various kinds, some with moving parts and even several electric models, all designed to remove fish scales. But the workshop serves a different primary purpose, carving and painting fish and other items. It all started with a Black and Decker hobby tool Jungroth received from his wife, Dorothy, shortly before he retired from Iten Chevrolet as a body man 22 years ago. “What in the world will I do with this?” Jungroth recalls asking when he opened the Christmas gift. “Then I picked it up after I retired and tried it,” he said. “I still use it,” he added, “It gets so hot I have to wear gloves, but it still works.” He started making lures for his spear house on Wall Lake near Fergus Falls. He picked up one of his early lures and laughed. “I weighted this one,” he said pointing to the spot of lead in the fish belly, “But I didn’t put enough in. It floated.” It was one of many lessons he learned by doing and observing others who carved and created wildlife art. His work with lures led him to carving and painting various species of fish. As he looks at early work he frequently says, “That’s not very good.” And he admits that he is learning all of the time. He makes a trip to the annual decoy show called “The Gathering” every April in Perham. “Dorothy can go through there in an hour and see what she wants to see,” he said. “It takes me about four hours.” Shaping a fish takes some effort. Jungroth shapes the fish with his Black and Decker tool and then sands it to smooth it. Even then wood “hairs” will pop up and spoil a smooth finish. So, using some of his body shop knowledge and occasionally a little bondo, Jungroth primes his fish, sands then, primes them, and sands them and repeats the process until it is a smooth as he desires. Then comes a final primer coat and the paint coat, often multiple layers he applies with a air brush, another tool from the body shop days. He has learned more about painting from Dorothy’s nephew, Dick Sundeen, who Jungroth considers an artist. “He showed me how to paint fish scales,” said Jungroth. The process involves stretching a fine cloth netting over the surface before airbrushing. “He asked me how I got the fish scales so close to the fins,” said Jungroth. “I told him I was very careful,” said Jungroth, grinning again. After the paint coats come lacquer and then one or more coats of polyurethane. He’s carved a variety of fish from sunfish and crappies to northerns, dogfish and bullheads. “I hate doing crappies,” he said, referring to the difficulty of the paint job. “I’ve got one I have repainted three times,” he said. The fish have lead to other wildlife. Dorothy paints the birds he creates. He’s tried a beaver and is working on a squirrel. Dorothy created a small baby loon out of a peach pit with a bean for a head. Another recent addition to the fish and wildlife are birds and other items made from wood golf club heads. He removes the golf club shaft and puts a carved item where the shaft would have been. Birds work well. A more recent addition has been more mechanical, but also employs skills Jungroth used during his career. These items are bird houses Jungroth assembles from old coffee pots. The bottoms come out and a hardware cloth screen goes around the bottom and the pot sits in an aluminum pie pan. The top a person used to open to place coffee in the pot becomes the place one dumps seeds. He has donated a few pieces to “Pheasants Forever” and to his church but doesn’t really like to sell them himself. “I sold two of them,” he said. “First I had to figure out a price and then I felt guilty because I felt I had charged too much.” The Jungroths retired in 1989, Vernon after 42 years in the auto body business and Dorothy from a dozen years at Honeywell. “I said if he was retiring I was too,” she said. They moved to lake property they owned on Wall Lake that same year, 1989, selling their house to one of their two sons. One son has a dwelling on a lot next door to his parents. They have four grandchildren. They recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary with a trip to Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
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