The commission job below was a Christmas present for a little boy who had a collection of ‘Ertle’ die-cast engines from the ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’ stories. I think he had every design that they had ever made and had asked his parents for an engine shed to play with and keep them in.
Some times at Christmas, I used to take on so much work that there were seldom enough hours in a day to get the work done.
Somehow though I always got the jobs done, even if it meant working through the night to complete the work. Because of the restrictions placed upon me with the available workshop space my job was sometimes made very difficult and this particular Christmas it was going to be down to the wire. By midnight on the 23rd December that year I had managed to get all of the jobs done except for this engine shed which was still only a picture in my mind. The Grandmother of the child, who had ordered this had telephoned me a couple of days before to arrange the delivery details and I had told her that it would be very late on Christmas Eve as I had lots of orders to deliver. By now I was exhausted with the work schedule I had set myself but I had never let anyone down before and was not about to do that now. So at 00.15hrs on the 24th December having worked all of the previous day I set forth to bring this picture in my mind to reality. My son who was 15 at the time said he would stay up and help me as it was going to be a long night.
So armed with a large wooden drawing compass and sheets of material I drew out the basic design and set to cutting out all of the necessary components to produce the job. To add to the complexity of the job I had to design and make a special jig to mount my router on so that I could produce the necessary curved grooves and cut-outs for the trains to run in and the walls to be set in. Also there was to be a turntable which had to be able connect up to each compartment of the shed. By 04.00hrs I had completed the main construction work and was ready to drop. So I decided that a few hours sleep was required to enable me to achieve my goal. So at 08.00 hrs, a cup of strong coffee and a couple of slices of toast was back to the workshop to complete the last few bits of the construction work before I could set out with the paint brush. By lunch time I had applied two coats of the base colour and with the help of hair dryers and heaters got it all dry. All that was left to do now was add the final paint effects to make the toy look like a real engine shed that had seen years of steam engines all belching out smoke. (see pictures below of the finished toy).
So at 16.00 hrs I set forth on what had now become the normal way my family and I spent our Christmas Eve, delivering the toys to customers over a wide area. This particular route would take us from Whittington, where we were based then, on a 300 mile round trip to deliver all the items. My van was loaded with Rocking Horses, Farms, Castles, Dolls Houses, Noah’s Arks, and many other items including the Engine Shed. We had several drops to do in Lancaster and Morecambe, a couple in Blackpool, more in Preston and the surrounding area. Then it was off to Blackburn, Burnley and Bolton with more drops in the Greater Manchester area. By now it was getting on for 22.00 hrs and I still had to deliver the engine shed to the customer in Hathersage on the edge of the Peak District near Sheffield. I remember stopping at a take-away food shop for some supper and then driving over the Snake Pass in the snow before getting to our final drop at 23.30 hrs. Deliveries done, all I now had to do was get back home. It was hard work but somehow quite magical being Father Christmas delivering all the toys to houses where the children were all tucked up in their beds, ready to see what had been left for them during the night. I have been known to wear my full Father Christmas outfit when delivering these last few orders. Driving back home we did see some very amusing sites though. All the Christmas lights from just a few coloured bulbs, to whole rows of houses completely covered with set piece decorations of Santa climbing ladders and on sleighs, even the roof tops were covered too. By about 01.00 hrs on Christmas Day the pubs were closing and the streets were full of over-indulged and very merry people who had been out celebrating the arrival of Christmas. One scary site we witnessed was a man with a white stick trying to navigate his way home, with his legs trying to go in the opposite direction to him. This man was actually blind drunk! I hope he found his way home alright. We arrived back at our home at 03.30 hrs having been stopped by the police on the A65 between Settle and Kirkby Lonsdale for a routine check. In the middle of nowhere this police car was parked up in the gateway to a field and as I passed it pulled out and followed me for about half a mile before the flashing blue lights came on and he flashed me to stop. ‘Where have you come from and where are you going this early on a Christmas Day’ he asked me. I explained that I was Father Christmas and I had just finished doing my deliveries. He asked me to verify my details and show him the necessary paperwork regarding my driving licence and insurance. Having checked these against the police computer he was satisfied that my reason for being out was true and he wished us all a Happy Christmas and let us on our way home. I think we all slept till about mid-day before starting our well earned Christmas Break.
So next time your children open up that special hand-made wooden toy on Christmas morning, spare a thought to that army of traditional toy-makers who have toiled to make it all possible! We are a dying breed of people who need to pass on our skills to the next generation to keep alive this very important trade. As a child growing up in the early 1950’s my first recollection of wooden toys was a station that my father built with the help of our next door neighbor. It was magnificent with great care given to the finer details. He had covered the wood with brick patterned paper and the platform was covered with paper that resemble paving slabs and the roof was covered to look like slates. He had cut miniature pictures from magazines and stuck them onto the walls to reassemble the old railway posters you used to have showing holiday destinations around the country. But if you turned the station over you could see the remains of cement on the wood which had been recycled from the wood used as shuttering for the garden path. You have to remember that in the years that followed the second world war, timber and other building materials were in short supply and nothing went to waste. So the station together with a second hand clockwork train set was the main Christmas present for my brother and I and it gave us hours of enjoyment playing with it. I wish I still had it but alas it disappeared one day when we hadn’t played with it for some time and had moved on to other toys.
I apologies for the poor quality of these pictures but they were scanned off some old photos on file