DENVER, Mo. – Santa’s sleigh may have been busy last night delivering toys to little boys and girls, but one Missouri man has a sleigh workshop that’s sure to rival Old Saint Nick’s.
In Denver, Missouri, where the population is 30, there are more horse-drawn sleighs than people in the town two hours north of the metro. They belong to Bill Engel, owner of Denver Sleigh Works.
“I’m trying to preserve history,” Engel said. “I like to say I have the largest collection in the United States.”
The 80-year-old started collecting sleighs more than 20 years ago. He was at an auction and saw some guys buy a few, only to tear them up on site.
“I’m like, ‘What are you doing,’ and they said, ‘All we want are the runners,’” Engel recalled. “They were going to take the runners and make coffee tables out of them.”
Engel decided, from that day on, he was going to save as many sleighs as he could find. He now has more than 300 sleighs in his possession, all of which are at least 100 years old.
“I don’t try to rebuild them. I try to stabilize them,” he said.
Engel said his oldest sleigh likely predates the signing of the Declaration of Independence which happened in 1776.
“It came from Ohio, northeast Ohio and they tell me it was up in an old, old barn and it could’ve been there at the time of the French Indian War,” he said pointing to the tattered sleigh.
Engel said finding and identifying sleighs requires a ton of research. He often scours the internet looking for possible leads. His collection includes sleighs from Canada, Russia, Austria, Germany and Sweden, just to name a few.
“I can tell you where each one came from,” he said looking at his collection, which is housed in nine buildings.
Engel doesn’t have a favorite sleigh. He said each one has a unique and interesting story. As for what he thinks the collection is worth?
“It’s sort of like what is the value of art? It’s more in the eye of the beholder,” he responded.
He said collecting sleighs isn’t a hobby. It’s his life. So much so, Engel has earned the nickname, “Savior of Sleighs.”
“It’s something that’s tangible and it’s real and most people have never ridden or even touched a sleigh,” he said. “What I’m trying to do maintain is the story.”
Engel plans to keep collecting sleighs as long as his health allows, however, he said he wouldn’t mind if one of his eight grandchildren would eventually take over the fleet.
Engel offers tours of his collection. If you’re interested in seeing it in person, click here.