Prior to retiring as an automotive mechanic for a local dealership, Jim Trana of Stanley went searching for a hobby.

“After 38 years of working on vehicles, I didn’t want to do it (as a hobby),” said Trana, who built a small building in his backyard to work in. “I didn’t make the shop big enough to get a car in (for a reason).”

Trana’s retirement obsession became woodworking. He’s made small crosses, custom shelves and casings and even furniture. 

However, his most popular projects have been sets for cornhole, a beanbag tossing game that is a favorite in outdoor settings. Trana and Farmers Union Insurance agent Ron Hamers — Trana’s brother-in-law — donated a set of custom-designed Farmers Union Insurance cornhole boards to be used at North Dakota Farmers Union events.

Trana has created 25 sets of cornhole boards, many of which he has donated to silent auctions to help a family in need or nonprofits like schools and churches. He has also donated numerous crosses and other items.

“It makes you feel good,” Trana said. “If I can help somebody else and they can enjoy it, that’s what it’s all about.”

Trana said carpentry has always been an interest of his, begging for a jigsaw for Christmas when he was “10 or 12 years old.” In past years, Jim has put his knowledge to good use in his home, as he and his wife Susie built a deck in their backyard and put up a wood fence.

Woodworking with smaller items was a learning experience, especially the cornhole boards, Trana said.

“Getting going, I made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “Getting the wood right, getting the right stain and urethane on it. You learn, and they have better tools that make it easier. The tools now days are fantastic.”

It started with a request from a local store in Stanley, who asked Trana about them after she was approached by her customers.

“I thought it would be a good idea to have a UND vs. NDSU set, and the (customer) was a UND fan and said they weren’t having anything that said Bison on it,” Trana joked. “So I had to make an identical UND one, and it didn’t turn out well.”

When his first cornhole boards were created, Trana said he used “heavy lumber” and all screws. That soon changed, however.

“I used lighter wood that was easier to work with — they weighed half as much, but are still just as strong,” he said. “I learned over the years what kind of detail to put on them. Each one has five coats of urethane over the top of the paint. Some of the decals wouldn’t take the urethane, so when you print them on the computer, you have to have a laser printer. Otherwise, everything smears. You learn things like that.”

Cornhole boards are popular right now, but Trana’s sets have a couple of items that set them apart. One of the board’s undersides features a small compartment with a sliding door that houses all eight bags. Additionally, the holes are lined with LED lights, so the game can be played at night.

“I had never played it before, and we’re not used to staying up till after dark,” Trana said. “We had to stay up late one night and play it to make sure the hole lit up like it was supposed to.”

Trana said he does most of the painting, but gets the design concepts from Susie.

“She knows how it’ll look good on the board and what kind of letters to use,” he said. “She’s really good at telling me what colors are appropriate. She has a real eye for that.”

His work became impressive enough that others started asking him to sell it at craft shows and flea markets. However, that involves a lot of patience, Trana said.

“Boy, that’s just not my thing, sitting there all day,” he said. “One guy came by and said, ‘You could have sanded this one a little better.’ I told my wife that I wasn’t doing that anymore. I do it for a hobby. I don’t need to make anything on it. Most of it is my time.”

But even woodworking has run its course with Trana, as the couple would like to be closer to family. They’ve sold their house and are moving to Bismarck, where Trana is sure to find his next hobby.

“It’s hard, but the wife and I will move onto other things,” Trana said. “I don’t have anything yet, but I’ll find something new.”

— Chris Aarhus, NDFU