Upside-down world: Altoona man’s unusual hobby keeps him looking up

Walking into Joe Duey Jr.’s home garage in Altoona you can tell right away he is an automobile enthusiast, but under closer inspection – just look up – the room is home to an unusual hobby.

Duey began attaching and painting what amounts to a miniature world complete with racetracks, an amusement park and a graveyard to the ceiling of his 35-footby-30-foot garage.

The project began in 2008 after Duey got the idea during one of his sleepless nights – the Vietnam veteran, who served as a combat medic from 1968 to 1969, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The hobby is an outlet, a way for him to relax, he said. He said it keeps his mind occupied.

On that night, a bored Duey lay on his garage floor thinking about what he could do with the “stuff” he had, he said.

“Boy, I got all that acreage up there; might as well use it,” the 68-year-old recalled thinking.

“Key word: He’s a tinkerer,” his son, Joey, 42, said.

Duey, who started his own plumbing business, Joe Duey Plumbing and Heating, in 1975, retired in 2004.

The first part of the town Duey created was a NASCAR racetrack complete with a parking lot, fans cheering in the stands and a fence made out of shelving material. He pointed out a mistake in his design, however; the cars are going backward.

He looks at objects a bit differently than his wife, Eileen, 65, he said.

A toothpaste cap makes a perfect trash bin. The containers that prizes come in from coin-operated toy machines become tents when a notch is cut out for an entryway. Chess pieces are used as monuments in the graveyard.

Eileen said she is most impressed with the amusement park area on the ceiling, because Duey handcrafted all the rides, which include a motorcycle cage with riders.

She thinks the hobby is nice, but jokes that she doesn’t want to “enable” the unusual decision to create such an art piece.

She said her husband has imagination, and she enjoys showing people.

The layout, which is about two-thirds of the way complete, also has farming and town communities, a train and tracks and a Penn State stadium.

Next, he plans to finish a spring car track and an airport, and create a miniature golf course.

Duey said he gets most of his material from flea markets.

He isn’t worried about what he’ll do to occupy his time when he finishes the ceiling. He said he has plenty of projects to keep him busy such as restoring three antique race cars known as micro-midgets.

Duey got his love of race cars and racing from his father, Joe Duey Sr., who raced cars from 1954 to 1958 as a member of the Penn Western Racing Association.

On Duey’s garage floor is a small tribute to his dad’s racing days. A black-and-white photo of his race car is sealed to the floor and spelled out in white lettering is “Joe Duey, 1954.”

He also built a small model of his dad’s first race car with his signature style of using ordinary objects to create parts. A bendy straw painted black serves as the car’s side pipe.

Duey said he also got behind the wheel to race three times in the early ’70s.

The first two races he came in second place, but he wrecked in the third race.

The layout of Duey’s miniature ceiling world also includes restaurants put together by some of his four grandchildren – Kira, 23; Samantha, 16; Riley, 14 , and Hunter, 15.

Duey also created a Coca-Cola restaurant in his home’s basement for his grandchildren.

He made a wooden table with Coca-Cola and their names on it. The room has a Coca Cola cash register and a working fountain-drink barrel. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Joe Duey-room without some creative use of ordinary objects – red colanders act as lamp shades for the ceiling lights.

So what’s the reaction to Duey’s unusual hobby?

His granddaughter, Samantha, had a birthday party in the garage, and her friends loved it, he said. Duey said people who have seen his work say it is “awesome.”

Friend Judy Knox said she has never known anyone who had this hobby.

The effort is “good therapy,” and was a “labor of love,” she said. “He really has a gift for it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.