Toy Guys

Doug Garner, from left, Jim Stoll, Joe Reed, Gard Andrews and Mike Emlaw are The Toymakers.

“If we make one child happy, we made our day.”

That is the motto of Joe Reed and his band of elves (who call themselves the Toymakers) who have just created 170 wooden toys by hand

The toys will be distributed predominantly to Operation Christmas Cheer, sponsored by the New Smyrna Beach Police Department. Some additional toys will be going to the Edgewater Red Hat Society for them to distribute to Edgewater Fire and Rescue.

The five men, led by Mr. Reed, 83, work from June to November, making the toys, and then immediately start planning what they will make for the next holiday season. His garage serves as their workshop.

The craftsmanship for the cradles, boats, trains, trucks and cars is incredibly detailed and certainly not something found in stores. The men do everything, starting with drawing their own patterns, cutting them out, gathering the type of wood needed, creating windows, wheels and whatever else is needed, including staining and painting everything they make.

Mr. Reed pays for all the wood himself. “This is my program,” he said. “These are my elves. I cannot do this alone. These are the guys that help me. I will not let them spend their money to do my project.”

Mr. Reed’s helpers Jim Stoll, 73; Gard Andrews, 70; Mike Emlaw, 71; and Doug Garner, 79. All live in Hacienda Del Rio in Edgewater. Most are veterans.

Mr. Stoll is the only one with carpentry experience. Mr. Reed owned a commercial truck sales company while Mr. Andrews worked in the elevator industry for almost 40 years, but always enjoyed woodworking as a hobby. Mr. Emlaw ran an automobile repair shop and Mr. Garner worked in data processing and in the restaurant business.

“I started 10 to 15 years ago with a truck,” Mr. Reed said. “I started it as a program with my wife wanting me to do something for kids. I used to do it through our church. My wife got tired of me making toys for (just) boys. She found that cradle, and I started making cradles. It’s a labor of love and that’s what I do. If God gave you a talent, shame on you if you waste it. This year in June, this group of fellows joined me.”

His wife did make all the bedding (for the cradles) and he would buy the dolls. She died three years ago and his daughter in-law, Joan, who lives in New Jersey stepped up and is making all the bedding now. He still buys the dolls.

Mr. Reed added, “This is a family organization, but this is my family. It’s just the way it is. There are two rules in our shop. No smoking and no drinking.”

The talented group have become fast friends and may not whistle while they work, but they share a lot of laughs despite some long hours

“I took it on as friendship to help Joe,” Mr. Garner said.

All agreed that was true for each of them. Mr. Andrews added Joe is a fisherman and he has managed to get them all “hooked” on his passion.

During the work season, one or more of the elves is working in the shop every day. A train with only three cars is composed of 80 separate pieces of wood. The cradles take at least 12 hours to make.

Lt. Mark Severance of the New Smyrna Beach Police Department said, “I know Joe Reed personally. Operation Christmas Cheer has been going more than 25 years here at the New Smyrna Beach Police Department in various forms. This year’s going to be a little different because of Covid.”

The department is planning to do a “Shop with a Cop,” taking children shopping for gifts rather than just giving them gifts.

“I think it’s remarkable that these gentlemen, at the expense of their personal time and own personal expense, do this for children that are in need,” Lt. Severance said. “These toys are obviously a unique item; you don’t see these very often anymore, these wooden toys. It gets a little bigger each year. Even though we are doing Christmas Cheer a little different this year we are certainly willing to take those items and distribute them to the children.”

It should be noted toys made by The Toymakers are not for sale, but donations of wood or gift cards to buy wood for future toy creations would be gladly accepted. For information, email Mr. Reed at jreed1937@hotmail.com.

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