When Jerry Thorstad retired after a career in business, he came back to Minnesota and settled down in a house on a hill overlooking the Minnesota River in Granite Falls, but some people just can't sit still.
Thorstad, 73, is a voracious reader and has the time to indulge himself now, but to keep active he spends his time building houses - houses for birds that is, and occasionally for bats, too. Not just the standard single-family cottages for our feathered friends, but huge multi-level condominiums capable of housing whole flocks. He's turned his front yard into an avian housing development.
"My mother got a little one as a gift for her 90th birthday," Thorstad said. "She liked it so much she wanted some for all her grandchildren."
Jerry Thorstad just built and installed this eight-place neighborhood mailbox with birdhouses.
Thorstad started by painting store-bought birdhouses, and figured he could make them just as well.
Thorstad's houses sell anywhere from $6 up to $400. He started using cedar and pine, but these days uses mostly the wood composite Smart Board after he found cedar made his birdhouses too expensive for most people, and pine has lots of waste because of boards warping and bending.
Though he has some experience remodeling from the days he owned and managed apartments in Michigan, he is pretty much self-taught.
"I never have had a blueprint," Thorstad said. "I make a rough sketch; you don't need a blueprint to build a birdhouse."
Thorstad said he has no idea how many birdhouses he's sold, or even whether he's making any money off them. He doesn't advertise and doesn't have a website, just a sign in his front yard. His business is strictly drive-by and word of mouth.
"I don't want somebody interrupting me reading every evening because they want to buy a birdhouse," Thorstad explained. "I've got all the receipts in a drawer, and someday I'll look at them and figure it out. As far as business, I don't really want it to be a business. For me it's meeting the people, and I have a lot of fun with it."
Thorstad figures he sells about a hundred bird houses a year, and now five years after he started building and selling his houses customers come from as far away as the Twin Cities and South Dakota.
"I sold my last bat house the other day," Thorstad said. "Jason Davis from channel 5 came by and his cameraman Mike bought it."
Recently Thorstad branched out into another project, an eight-place neighborhood mail box he just built and installed across the street.
"I always wanted to because we had a real junky one," Thorstad said. "My neighbor went around and everybody got real excited about my building one. It's built to government specs, 42 inches off the pavement and flush with the curb."
One thing isn't government specs though, Thorstad included a couple of bird houses in the design.