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Building toy trains a labor of love Print E-mail
August 12, 2011 10:34 pm

Bob Tetrault sits on the floor of his garage where a wall is covered with toy trains. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
 

Bob Tetrault’s garage is a child’s wonderland.

It holds 48 wooden trains the 69-year-old retired computer troubleshooter made this year from plywood and choice pieces of cedar.

He gave four other trains away and figures it took more than 500 hours to build all 52 trains, which have a total of 208 cars.

Bob Tetrault’s garage is a child’s wonderland.

It holds 48 wooden trains the 69-year-old retired computer troubleshooter made this year from plywood and choice pieces of cedar.

He gave four other trains away and figures it took more than 500 hours to build all 52 trains, which have a total of 208 cars.

Tetrault could make lots of money selling the attractive toys, but he refuses to do that.

Instead, he donates them to nonprofit organizations such as the Women’s Safety and Resource Center in North Bend, Oasis Shelter Home Inc. of Gold Beach and the Del Norte Child Care Council in Crescent City.

That way, the trains find their way into the hands of children who can use some joy in their lives.

The labor of love began in 2004 when Tetrault and four friends made 14 trains to donate to Toys for Tots.

The next year, Tetrault asked a Toys for Tots organizer how many trains he wanted and the reply was, “As many as you can make.”

So Tetrault, aided by just two friends, turned out 31 of them. He began producing trains on his own in 2006, choosing the nonprofits as recipients. He has now crafted 195 of the custom choo-choos and has no plan to stop.

He still has the very first one and says, “I’m just so proud of that.”

His goal is to make each train car as close to child-proof as possible, knowing youngsters will likely play roughly with them. Fourteen drywall screws hold each car together.

“I try to make it as rugged as I can,” he said.

 

Tetrault also has donated trains to Kalmiopsis Elementary School, asking teachers to give them to needy children. In addition, he has given two to Relay for Life, two to Friends of the Brookings-Harbor Aquatic Center and one to the Civil Air Patrol for fundraising purposes.

“There are not a lot of people like Bob,” said Pat Ramsey, a neighbor and South Coast Humane Society volunteer. “This man has made more people happy in this town than you can imagine – happy children and happy animal owners.”

Besides making trains, Tetrault builds “cat condos” for animals to walk through and sharpen their claws on rope sections. He donates them to the South Coast Humane Society, which sells them to raise needed revenue.

Despite his woodworking skill, Tetrault was never employed as a carpenter. He had a 30-year career with General Electric, the interest in wood coming early in life.

Tetrault recalls his grandfather always having blocks of wood around when he visited.

“I would play for hours in the garage, making things,” he said. “Anything that was put in front of me that didn’t work, I liked to tinker and make it work.”

Pat, his wife of 45 years, jokes that the hobby has helped their marriage.

“It keeps him busy and that’s good because otherwise he would drive me crazy,” she said.

Tetrault is usually in his garage workshop between 6 and 6:30 a.m. The shop has a variety of tools and he keeps everything impressively neat and orderly.

A sign on the wall reads, “If you can’t drill it, saw it or sand it then forget it.”

The trains he’s built this year, if lined up end-to-end, would measure 277 feet. He has attached 1,040 wheels, used 3,086 pieces of wood and 3,536 screws.

Although Tetrault spent $160 to buy the wheels from an Internet source, most of the raw material is donated by Curry County businesses who appreciate his support of nonprofit agencies.

Fred Meyer gives cans of finish stain, Gold Beach Lumber provides hardware such as bolts, Pacific Shores Plumbing gives sections of black plastic pipe used for the boilers of train engines, Oregon Cedar gives cedar ends and Flora Pacifica provides shipping boxes for individual trains.

A company that wants to remain anonymous gives sheets of plywood.

Bever’s Floors ’n More and Wild Rivers Carpet One Floor and Home donate material for the cat condos, in addition to many local contractors who give wood for them.

The agencies receiving the toys and the condos are appreciative.

“His donation of trains has really made the difference for some children in our program, especially at Christmas,” said Lea Sevey, director of Oasis.

She noted that Tetrault donated one train for Oasis to raffle during a health fair. It was purchased by Dan Palicki of Brookings, who gave the train back to Oasis to sell again.

Charlene Blackburn, program director for Del Norte Child Care Council, said they give the trains to families using their services as well as to a Crescent City women’s shelter and the 4-H.

“It warms the heart of the Child Care Council staff to present these wonderful trains to families,” Blackburn said. “We have one in our toy room and children play with it on a weekly basis. And we are so grateful to pass them on to needy children.”

Because youngsters receive their trains through social service agencies, Tetrault has only seen one child actually receive a toy he’s made. That was a neighbor boy who received one of the special gifts from the builder himself.

“That’s my prerogative,” Tetrault said. “I have to have a little reward sometime.”

The reward often comes in a written message. He’s kept  several thank-you notes, some written in a child’s scrawl and others written by a parent.

“We thank you so much for this amazing train!” a mother wrote. “You are such a blessing! He loves his train and has found many ways to play with it.”

A couple of times, parents have sent photos of their child playing with the train.

“He gets a big bang out of that,” Pat Tetrault said. “That grabs your heart.”

A particularly satisfying response came from the Women’s Safety and Resource Center, which presented Tetrault with a plaque expressing appreciation for all the trains he has donated.

The humane society has received 181 cat condos since 2004 and has sold them for up to $250 apiece. Society employee Pat Malone said part of the proceeds will go toward building a new thrift store, in addition to helping fund the society itself.

“The South Coast Humane Society is so grateful for the funds Bob has raised by the sale of his beautifully made cat condos,” she said.

 

 

 

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