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HANDYMAN NOT COWED BY HIS PAGODA DREAM

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Over a cup of coffee or a piece of homemade pie at Lizzie's Cafe, folks talk about the silvery pagoda that rises 82 feet out of the prairie.

"It's the closest thing to a tourist attraction we've got," said Lizzie Guthmiller, who runs the only cafe in this central North Dakota farming community of 125 residents.The structure is the brainchild of Henry Luehr, who declared it finished a year ago after working on it about five years.

"I guess I call it finished because when there's nothing else to do you just have to call it done," said the 69-year-old repairman, who has lived in the area all his life.

About 1,500 people, some from as far away as Japan and Czechoslovakia, have toured Luehr's tapering tower, 15 miles off I-94and 60 miles from Bismarck. They sign their names in a green spiral notebook that serves as a guest register.

The idea came to him when he was trying to decide what to do with wood from a friend's razed grain elevator, Luehr said recently as he easily maneuvered his tall, lean frame up a stairway to the pagoda's eighth floor.

Luehr wanted to build something with the rotting wood, but he wanted to do it without scaffolding. A pagoda was the answer, he decided.

Walkways encircle each of its levels, from the ground floor that measures 26 feet in diameter to the top floor with a 19-foot diameter.

Luehr sketched his plan for the pagoda from encyclopedia pictures and then went to work on it, alone.

"I seem to work faster that way," he said.

Luehr used aluminum press plates from two newspapers as siding and old irrigation pipes as walkway railings.

The inside decor - carpeting, drapes and wall ornaments - came from junkyards and auctions. Some of the artwork - including six pictures of a black sun rising and setting - was done by Luehr himself.

"I didn't spend hardly any money," said Luehr. "I didn't have any money to spend, not on this dumb pagoda anyway."

Luehr's talent for frugal construction has been with him all his life. He remembers that at age 7 he built a playhouse with leftover house shingles and in 1941 he put up a barn, half of which was used lumber.

He also has crafted a pair of dollhouse-size castles, a geodesic dome and a huge workshop in which he operates a farm machinery repair service.

"He's always got to have something to do," said Luehr's wife, Elaine. Without the pagoda to work on last winter, "he talked 14 to 16 hours a day."

"I've got so much time, so much energy," Luehr explained, a smile brightening his tanned, weathered face.

And the pagoda won't be his last project, he said.

"I haven't figured out what to do next, that's all."