From Reamstown with loveLocal woodworker crafts toys for children in need

By on June 22, 2011

By: KAREN SHUEY Review Staff, Staff Writer

Dale Whisler cuts into a scrap piece of wood with his scroll saw as he begins the process of making a homemade toy in his wood shop. (Photos by Karen Shuey)Dale Whisler cuts into a scrap piece of wood with his scroll saw as he begins the process of making a homemade toy in his wood shop. (Photos by Karen Shuey)

From the simplest, to the most complex, Dale Whisler makes wooden toys.

"It keeps me young at heart," the 70-year-old said with a chuckle.

The shed Whisler has wedged his scroll saw into isn’t fancy, but the toys he produces are. He has made several miniature classic cars, helicopters with moving propellers, planes and a number of larger pull toys depicting monkeys peeling bananas, ducks hand-in-hand with their chicks and dogs about to bite into bone — all made out of hundreds of pieces of wood.

While most of Whisler’s work now is devoted to toy-making, that wasn’t always the case. He first bought and taught himself how use the scroll saw to make commercial art, but things changed after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

"I saw that there were children who didn’t have anything anymore, nothing to take their minds off the terrible things that had happened to them and their families — I wanted to help them," he said. "A child needs the opportunity to use their imagination, to forget about their troubles for awhile."

That’s when Whisler began making toys and has been ever since. Over the past several years, the Reamstown man — with the help of a few friends — has donated several thousand wooden toys to needy children. Most of his items are sent overseas to kids in impoverished nations, who might not otherwise have much to smile about.

"I love making toys for these children because it isn’t about the object, it’s that they know someone out there cares enough about them to do this," he said.

Recently, Whisler, a crossing guard for the Cocalico School District, has been sending his toys to the Riley Toy Foundation. The foundation is a giving project started by 4-year-old Riley Hebbard that works to collect and deliver toys to orphaned children throughout Africa.

He works for about two hours a day, creating his masterpieces. He said he draws inspiration from the joy he gets by being around children. a "The sad thing is that kids in America don’t want pull toys, they want battery-operated plastic toys," he said.

The wooden toy-making process is pretty simple for Whisler, he said. He starts with plans drawn on paper, then cuts, drills and sands his pieces to perfection.

"You name it, I’ve probably made it," he said with a laugh.

Whisler’s wife, Betty, even lends a hand. She’s in charge of sanding, staining and organizing the toys as they pile up on a table outside the workshop.

The couple also gets some help from friends who believe in the cause.

"I have never paid for the wood I use to make the toys — we have a good number of people who keep us stocked," he said.

Most of the wood Whisler uses to craft his toys comes from his neighbor, West Side Radiator Works, on Cocalico Creek Road.

Although the majority of his work gets shipped to other countries, Whisler said he’d welcome the chance to share his art with children locally.

"These toys are here for anyone to take and enjoy," he said. "I don’t care where they go to, as long as they’re making kids happy — that’s what making toys is all about."

If interested in picking up a toy for a child or donating to Whisler, contact him at 799-4596.

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