I figured some of you might be interested in how the Rio Rancho “Holiday Arts and Crafts Festival” went for us. It was declared a success after counting the cash box at the end of the day. There were times during the day when you couldn’t get into our booth for all the customers. The big sellers: wooden toy cars, trucks and trains; snowman chocolate bars; rubber-band guns; post people; snowman gum packs; scrabble ornaments; angel ornaments; and lighted glass bottles and glass blocks. After spending up to five hours painting a mail-box sitter, a candy-cane sledder, a lighted and musical christmas tree, a country nativity scene, and other assorted Christmas-type decorations, they were “oohed” and “ahed” over, but nobody put up the cash. Well, it was the weekend before Thanksgiving, so maybe people weren’t into Christmas yet, or maybe they have enough decorations (I have over ten totes full of them) and didn’t need anymore. I should have made more rubber-band guns. I procured orders for 15 more at the show.
But this story is really about an Armenian truck. A toy logging truck.
My daughter bought a bag of wooden parts at the local “Savers” for $5. She had no idea what the parts made, they were all disassembled, but she saw the wooden two-inch wheels and knew I was looking for some for a project I was building. When we stuck all the parts together we came up with a toy logging truck. Amazingly, almost all the parts were in the bag. There was glue smeared on some of the pieces, as the truck had broken over play time and repaired by a parent, I guess. There was crayon scribbled on the oak pieces as I imagine the owner wanted to add some color to the truck, like black crayon on the tires and yellow, green and orange on the cab. Clearly, just looking at the truck, it was a well-loved toy, played with a lot, and held up well until all the parts were put in a zip-lock bag and donated. Someone thought the pieces could still make a toy, and thought better of just throwing it away. On the bottom of the flat-bed trailer was stamped “Made in Armenia.”
Now, I’ve heard of Armenia. I figured it was in Europe somewhere. And it is. It’s a landlocked country east of Turkey and south of Georgia. Once part of the Soviet Union, it gained Independence in 1991. And its been around a long time too, all the way back to the fourth century. The Republic of Armenia has 3.1 million inhabitants. I don’t know how many “drams” or “lumas” this logging truck might have originally cost, but wooden toys are not a major export of Armenia, diamonds being number one. Somehow the truck got here and into my hands.
I looked the truck over and thought I could fix it and sell it at the show. It would need more than glue though.
The truck cab didn’t work for me so I dismantled all the parts and what I ended up with was two flat pieces of oak with wheels and axles. I started by taking a router to the wheels, rounding them off to look more like tires. Then I painted them black and added some metallic paint to the wheels. Next I built a cab by laminating three pieces of 2 X 6 and pegging and gluing it to the base. Then I added some fenders to the block, some headlights, running lights, a bumper and an exhaust stack. I re-glued and replaced two of the stakes on the trailer, added running lights and stop lights to the trailer and painted it. Now I needed some “logs”. I’m blessed with several large trees in the back yard, and with a little pruning I had several real-looking logs to load up on the truck. The result is the truck below.
I enjoyed building the truck so much, that I drew up plans to make more of them. I sealed the non-toxic paint with a food-safe wood toy oil and loaded it up with the other toy trucks to take to show. A woman bought three of my toy trucks (ordering another one like that sold to the woman in front of her). She said that she was buying them because they were made in America, were sturdy toys, and had an attention to detail that showed I cared about the them. She was anxious to give them to her children for Christmas and knew they would be the kind of toy that would be passed down for generations. That was all I wanted to hear, but I wasn’t there at the time. I had gone outside to get some air. Okay, I went outside to have a smoke.
The best moment for me on Saturday, was when I walked up to the booth and saw a woman in the checkout line with a small boy beside her holding one of the rubber-band rifles with the “compass in the stock.” He was about seven or eight. The look on his face as he held that wooden rifle was nothing less than the look on Ralphie’s face when he finally got his “Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time” in the movie “A Christmas Story.” It’s one of my favorite Christmas movies, and Jean Shepherd, as you might know, is one of my favorite authors. He’s on my idol list. The boy was so visibly excited as he held on to his new prized possession, all I could think is that he could hardly wait to shoot his eye out with the rubber-band gun. His mother was one of the vendors at the show, and he must have pestered her all day to buy the gun. He had been in the booth several times eyeing the weapon. She must have finally relented and paid the $14.95. “Always point the gun at the ground, while you’re loading it,” I instructed him before they walked away. It uses a seven-inch rubber band for ammunition.
Now before you accuse me of being a gun enthusiast, I guess I might be to some extent. After all, I grew up in Wyoming. We had gun racks in our trucks…with real guns on them. I was a little bit worried about taking the rubber-band guns to the show, but they’re fun, they’re harmless, and kids love them. But I also know there are a lot of parents that don’t like the idea. However, as I mentioned, they were a popular item and we sold out of all but the rifles in the first few hours. I guess they make a great “stocking-stuffer.” I felt a little like Lee Harvey Oswald carrying the rifles into the recreation center though. They were wrapped in brown paper and looked just like the curtain rods Oswald told people on the bus he was carrying. “Come on,” I said to myself, these are rubber-band guns.
I really hope that I didn’t destroy an heirloom by rebuilding the logging truck and making it my own. It’s not “Made in Armenia” anymore, and I sanded off the label on the bottom of the trailer. It’s “Made in America” now with a couple of pieces of Armenian oak, some Armenian oak wheels and a little added imagination. With my luck it was a rare item and worth thousands. I gave it away for $26.95.