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The Birdhouse Builder: Dycusburg Man Has Unique Hobby

For the Birds ...
Jim Chaney of Dycusburg has made birdhouses from license plates from 103 of Kentucky's 120 counties.
A map depicting Kentucky’s 120 counties is laid out in Jim Chaney’s garage.

The terrain of 103 counties is colored in with pink highlighter, as Chaney waits for a delivery and a chance to color in the remaining 13. The map isn’t an element of a travel itinerary, it’s his method of record-keeping.

Chaney’s custom birdhouses made from license plates are all the rage these days. And between efforts to fill his garage shelves with a birdhouse made with license plates from each Kentucky county, the Crittenden Countian is taking special orders from around the region. Chaney took up carpentry after 21 years in the Army and began making woodcrafts like potato boxes and checkerboards at his home near Dycusburg. It’s rather coincidental how his Kentucky license plate craft came to be -- on the West coast.

"My son bought a birdhouse made from Carlisle County (Kentucky) license plate in California last year for Christmas," Chaney says.

"I found it in a store for about $35 I think, and I thought, ‘Dad can make it better than that,’" says Chaney’s son Vic who lives in San Francisco.

And the U.S. Army veteran began his new craft. Vic sent emails to each of the county clerks in Kentucky requesting discarded license plates and began buying boxes of them on eBay. Soon they began to trickle in, though some clerks have refused to give Chaney old plates.

"Some of them think everybody is a convict and won’t give me any license plates," said the 71-year-old. "I’ve got a license plate on my car, I don’t need one," he says with a laugh while sitting in his front yard fidgeting with an empty coffee cup.

His wife Joann is the secretary for his mini business, keeping up with requests for birdhouses, plates people mail him, the date they’re needed for gifts and reimbursing postage for people donating plates.

"I don’t have many Crittenden County plates," he said, but revealed a stockpile inside his garage of ready-to-sell birdhouses made from McCracken, Henderson and Lyon county license plates.

Lining the shelves in his garage is his collection of Kentucky birdhouses, neatly alphabetized with spaces left for the counties he needs to complete the set. Cost is $15 each for a birdhouse.

Word of mouth has helped in his search for plates, and he’s sold a few too.

"A lady from Paducah who works in the courthouse sent him a Purple Heart plate her son got after he was wounded, and we sent her that birdhouse," Joann says.

"I give away more than I sell," he admits. "The first year I’m marketing them and then I’ll sell them."

Chaney’s birdhouses are fashioned out of painted wooden frames with the county name centered on the bottom front of the house. A little perch made from a golf tee sticks out of the house, looking just like a nose protruding from the smiling sun on Kentucky’s retired license plates.

While he waits for the 13 plates to complete his collection, he’s already started thinking about what he’ll do next: he says he may use the stockpile of plates he’s purchased on eBay and start a collection of state plates.

But he admits, he doesn’t want to be too busy. "I am retired," he says.

From The Crittenden Press, Sept. 14, 2006 issue

Chaney completes birdhouse mission
By Allison Evans, Press Assistant Editor

Mission accomplished. Dycusburg resident Jim Chaney has done what he set to do more than a year ago: make a birdhouse out of license plates from each Kentucky county.

It took nearly a year for Chaney to collect plates from all 120 counties and turn them into birdhouses. But just before Christmas, the 71-year-old U.S. Army veteran completed his task.

"I got the last three when my son when to Lexington and Maysville to get Mason, Owsley and Grant counties," Chaney said. "I had contacted those county clerks, but couldn't get them. My son got them at car lots."

That was the trouble Chaney ran into. Many clerks would not give him outdated plates.

Chaney said his business really took off after publicity of his craft last fall. He and his wife Joann had a booth at Christmas in Marion and did quite well. The only problem was not having enough Crittenden County plates. Between September and the October show, he could only dig up six Crittenden County plates. He said he could have sold them for two days straight at Christmas in Marion if he'd had more.

During Christmas, orders for Chaney's unique craft had him working overtime. He made a batch of birdhouses out of University of Louisville license plates provided from one Crittenden County family, and made several others for people with Tennessee and Murray State backgrounds.

Chaney is not going to sit back and rest. He has another idea. With a stash of Tennessee plates waiting in the wings so to speak, Chaney is considering embarking on his next venture: a quest to construct a birdhouse out of plates from each Tennessee county.

"I've got quite a few. I might start on them," Chaney said.

From The Crittenden Press, March 8, 2007 issue