Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Man who knew Duff Tweed: Ron Urschel

Glad you could come back and visit.  Sit back and enjoy for a few. . .

One of the toughest things we have experienced at Duff Tweed Carvings is getting real, factual information about the kind of person Duff really was.  While we greatly appreciate the art this man has created over the years he was here, we desire to know more about the man himself.
This is one of two sets of the Slaughterhouse Four created in 1959 by Duff Tweed.  Ron Urschel owns this set along with a hand written letter from Duff explaining the group is really from Alberta, Canada.
So, a few weeks ago we came across an old string on a Disney memorabilia site we had read several times before.  We had even responded to the string adding our own comments in relation to the value of a particular set of carvings Duff did back in 1959 titled The Slaughterhouse Four.  This particular set has all four carvings attached to one single frame.  After re-reading the string, we realized that the person posting it had actually spent significant time with Duff Tweed at his home in California.  We contacted the gentleman and he was more than happy to share his memories of Duff.
Ron Urschel today.
Ron Urschel, now 62 years of age used to spend hours of time with Duff Tweed when he came to visit the family at their home in Burbank, California.  There is actually some history here as well.  Ron’s father Earl, who gained his aeronautical experience via the U.S. Airforce was a B-17 bomber pilot.  Mr. Urschel worked for Walt Disney as a pilot for the company.  Earl Urschel (Ron’s father) was actually covered by the famous Greg “Pappy” Boyington on many of his earlier missions.  If you don’t know the name Greg Boyington, then read Black Sheep Squadron and you’ll know what kind of guy Pappy was; fearless and loyal.  I suspect Ron’s father Earl was equally loyal and fearless.  Ron shared that his Dad absolutely loved flying.
Ron at 50, skydiving.  Had to add this shot for his Dad's love of flying.
To give you a feel for the time, Burbank was the place to be.  It was actually the place where movie and television stars moved to get away from it all. Ron and his family not only knew Duff Tweed intimately, but also were friends with Guy Williams (Zorro), Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gabby Hayes, George Reeves (original Superman) and Kim Graham (Playboy model) to name just a few.
Ron in Quincy, California in 1961.
When Ron was a youngster (about 5 years of age), Duff would come and visit the family where they then lived in Burbank, California.  His father Earl was now with Fairchild Aviation which was after he stopped working for Disney.  Ron recalls they had palm trees in their backyard and Duff would put Ron on his lap and try to teach him how to draw the trees.  Ron shared that the lessons never stuck, but the time with Duff definitely did.  Ron remembered how Duff used to bring what they called black paper to write on because the colors showed up more vividly. Duff did teach Ron how to draw Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and several others.  He also continued to work with Ron on how to paint those palm trees. 

We were curious . . . what kind of person was Duff ?  Was he serious, was he easy going?  Ron shared that Duff was a private person.  He walked around with no worries and was quite a happy-go-lucky person around people he liked and those with which he was comfortable.  He confirmed what another neighbor previously shared about Duff and his work; Duff actually had a lower level of self esteem when it came to his carvings.  He never made a big deal out of them.  They were more of a hobby that became a means to support his lifestyle.  Duff always wore blue jeans and a western shirt or t-shirt.  Interestingly, Duff played the guitar and apparently was quite good. This explains his many western musician based carvings.
Betty Urschel, Ron's mother at age 85.  Mrs. Urschel received the first of only two Slaughterhouse Four sets carved by Duff Tweed and placed on one frame in 1959.  Below is the letter Duff wrote where explained the Slaughterhouse Four were from Alberta, Canada.
Ron made it a point to let us know that it was his mother who actually appreciated Duff’s carvings.  She was very complimentary of his work, so in 1959 Duff made only two sets of the Slaughterhouse Four which existed on one frame.  Duff sold the first set to a friend in Alberta, Canada for $500.  The second set was gifted to Ron’s mother Betty and father Earl.  Duff included a letter to Betty and Earl dated December 16, 1959 (see below) where he explains that the Slaughterhouse Four are actually ranchers that worked on his Dad’s ranch in Alberta, Canada and not in Mesa, AZ as later pieces have indicated.  We can now only guess that the Slaughterhouse Four started as ranch hands for Duff Tweed’s father in Canada and them moved to Mesa, AZ. 

Eventually Ron’s folks parted ways and his mother Betty ended up with the Slaughterhouse Four.  Betty in turn gifted the set to Ron who will keep it FOREVER!  I would too.  Ron has had his Slaughterhouse Four set appraised and shared with us that the value is $20,000 or $5,000 per carving.  We discussed this in short, but we both believe that value will be accurate as other communities and collectors become aware of Duff’s work and his strong affiliation with Disney. 

Before we say goodbye, we’re sending out a HUGE shout out and sincere thanks to Ron and wife Sue Urschel for sharing Ron's time, pictures and precious childhood memories of the time he spent with Duff Tweed.  As an aside, Ron smokes some of the best jerky and salmon around.  If you’re a smoked jerky or salmon fan, we’d be happy to put you in touch with him.  Ron included a picture of wife Sue Urschel, which we would also like to share with you in this post.
Sue Urschel, Ron's wife.

It truly has been our pleasure to share these Duffy tidbits with you.

Catch ya soon partner.
All the best!

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