Even if they don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s a good bet that most people have heard of that jolliest, altruistic aspect of the season, Santa Claus. Perhaps it’s his iconic crimson style or the fact that he traverses the world in a single light by means of a magical sleigh pulled by flying reindeer; no matter the reason, it’s safe to assume that Santa Claus is pretty well-known.
Regardless of how fervently the world’s children believe he is real, Santa has never been proven to be more than a tool of hardworking parents wishing to inject a little whimsy into their children’s lives. That said, there are some folks out there who take Santa’s example to heart and have striven to bring his toy-making to life; at least in some way…
For the past three years, retiree Don Powell has been putting his woodworking expertise to good use building hundreds upon hundreds of unique, one-of-a-kind vehicles. He builds wooden cars, trucks, semi-trucks, fire trucks, and even tractors. Each one is intricate, well-made, and perfectly suited for little, imaginative hands.
A native of Oakville, Don had built hundreds of wooden toys for kids in his area for the past few years, all of which were constructed in the workshop that sits adjacent to his house. In 2018, Don took his toymaking to the next level and donated an astonishing 170 handmade toys to the Les Schwab Tire Center Toy Drive. But this time, he didn’t do it alone.
Despite his toymaking prowess, Don was running on a pretty tight deadline recently. Because of this, and thanks to a recent interview, two his grandsons, Daniel, and Kendall Green, have made their way over to the shop to help get everything before the holiday season. Together, the three have worked on the hundreds of intricate toys until past midnight or even 1 a.m. most nights.
It was ironic that Dan and Kendall were helping their grandfather and quite appropriate, considering that his toymaking originated when they themselves were young enough to want to play with toys. Don had originally begun by making the same types of trucks for them. Then, when they got too old, he started making for his great grandkids.
Making Them Happy
“I can remember from many Christmases in the past how happy they will be, and that’s all I want out of it,” Don explained in a recent interview with the Daily Chronicle. “Just helping them out and making them happy — that’s where I get my satisfaction and happiness.” Of course, even those great grandkids outgrew the toys at some point too.
Don loved making the toys and was worried that his days of fabricating brightly-colored wooden trucks was finally coming to an end. Then, one of his friends gave him an idea, what if he made the toys for local children in his community. There had to be other children in need out there in Oakville and perhaps beyond.
Don’s recent efforts have seen him likened to something of a modern-day Santa Claus. Unlike Santa, however, Don doesn’t just make toys for the children on his nice list and doesn’t only deliver on Christmas Eve. Instead, this Oakville “Father Christmas” makes toys for any children who might need them.
Don Powell has made no secret of his love of woodworking over the years. Like many folks, Don finds the work soothing, relaxing even. It was this love that prompted him to build the woodshop in the first place. According to him, the toy making is just an excuse for him to work in the shop. Of course, those who know him know better.
For years, Don did the lion’s share of the work himself. It was only after he sliced his thumb open on a table saw that he was able to pick up a few “elves” to help him out. “I got bummed up and it slowed me up, here,” he explained. “I could see where I wasn’t gonna make it, and they offered to help.”
With his two talented grandsons in the shop and a sock wrapped tightly around his injured thumb, Don got to the business of filling out his holiday quota. They got to work, cutting, sanding, and constructing dozens of handcrafted wooden toys. In no time at all, every surface in the workshop was lined with toy parts.
Arts and Crafts
Daniel Green also spoke to the press about how amazing the experience was. “It’s kind of like adult arts and craft,” said Green. He admitted that despite his injured thumb, his grandfather cut out pretty much all the wood parts for the cars, including the fenders, cars, and trucks. He’d also painted most of the parts by the time they came in to help. So what was even left?
Don’s grandkids were then responsible for cutting out the wheels and assembling the hundred-or-so cars. Because it was mostly assembling, it wasn’t a terribly difficult task, but it was time-consuming and Don was grateful to have the boys there just the same. He also liked the added benefit of passing on his expertise to his family.
Daniel Green did admit there was one aspect of truck construction he found slightly frustrating. “The hardest part is gluing and when you go to glue it, you have to do it in steps because you can’t just throw both the fenders on and then glue them. You have to glue one first and then let that set and throw on the other fender and them clamp it down.”
Money is No Object
Ever since he first started making toys for the other children of Oakville, Don hasn’t even managed to keep track of a single cent spent on supplies. “Have no idea and I don’t care…I haven’t kept track, don’t intend to keep track. Whatever I spent, I spent. The kids get it.” It’s an altruistic attitude and only adds to his Santa-esque mystique.
No Such Santa
People have often asked Don if he considers himself something of a real-life Santa, but he doesn’t see himself that way; even if his family does call him that at times. No, for Don Powell, it’s the work that drives him. Not the Christmas-ey aspects of the whole enterprise. That said, it isn’t as if he’s pinching pennies on the whole thing, either.
Don plans to continue to make and donate more toys for as many future Christmases as he is capable. His grandsons also plan to be there to learn the craft when he begins in early fall. To them, it’s a perfect excuse to hang out with grandpa. But Don Powell isn’t the only amateur toymaker bringing back a very traditional method of Christmas toy-making these days.
Jason Rounds was adopted when he was three days old. Almost immediately, his father Greg noticed how fascinated he seemed with the four basic shapes on the mobile dangling over his crib. Inspired by this, Greg, who was a teacher by trade, went into his own workshop and made a wooden airplane, a dog, a duck, and a car.
These four seemingly-innocuous shapes would frame the rest of his and his son’s lives. He began making toys for friends and selling them at Tupperware-style parties. Before long, he abandoned his job as a teacher and became something of a modern Geppetto. When he came of age, Jason followed in his footsteps.
Today, 37-year-old Jason Rounds isn’t just a toymaker, he’s an artist rendering quality toys that aren’t seen in most stores today. His hardwood toys are made of sturdy wood, not flimsy plastic. His Web-based, word-of-mouth business is doing well; far better than most might believe in this economy, and the holidays are his busiest time.
A Busy Business
His toys, which range from $4 to $400 are as intricate and detailed as any out there and are for kids from newborn to 90. Even adults appreciate his toys for the craftsmanship. Unlike Don Powell, Jason isn’t about donation, but building a business. It’s not that he wouldn’t do it if he gets the chance, but he has to make money for his family.