The Hands of the Toymaker

October 14, 2013 • United States
Clyde holds a photo of a boy in Peru who received one of his handmade toy cars in a shoebox gift.
Clyde holds a photo of a boy in Peru who received one of his handmade toy cars in a shoebox gift.

Making toys for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes is a labor of love for a Kentucky man

He sits hunched over in his workshop, his nimble fingers guiding a block of wood around a saw blade. Specks of sawdust fly into his silvered hair. Lifting the cutout to the light, he peers at the rounded shape through his silver-framed glasses.

Once in a while, he glances up at the map on his wall, with its dusty pins marking a myriad of countries across the globe. He smiles, invigorated by the sight. A line of animals, trains, cars, and helicopters parades along a shelf above the map.

Day after day and month after month he works in his shop in Owensboro, Kentucky, a toymaker toiling to bring joy to children around the world.

Clyde Fogle, 73, has made more than 100,000 small wooden toys over the years. Many of them have been donated to fill Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts.

“It’s a labor of love, you might say. A lot of people have said, ‘You make that many toys? How do you do it?’ Well, I just do it,” Clyde said.

HOW TO PACK A SHOEBOX: Find everything you need to pack an amazing gift for a special child.

It all started in the early 2000s, when he was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy and had to retire early. With spare time on his hands, he ordered a kit to make 100 wooden toys and donated them to friends who were missionaries in Haiti. Soon, he was soon making more toys than his friends were able to use.

He heard about Operation Christmas Child through the grapevine, and realized that the Samaritan’s Purse project was a perfect recipient for his toys. Now he donates about 10,000 toys each year to help fill shoeboxes that have spare room when they are inspected before shipment.

“Operation Christmas Child just blows my mind as to how vast that is,” he said. “That people put these [toys] together in a box, just a simple shoebox. And to know that so many people throughout our country and other countries are doing this, and the impact that’s having on so many children.”

Shoeboxes with Clyde's toys have been delivered to at least 70 countries.

Shoeboxes with Clyde’s toys have been delivered to at least 70 countries.

Clyde has received feedback from missionaries who have distributed shoeboxes with his toys. With each new country they go to, he adds a pin to his map. So far, there are 70 pins. When he occasionally gets tired, he simply glances at the map for inspiration.

“The map is a symbol that gets me rejuvenated a lot,” he said. “I look at that and it’s just like I get a new rush and I’m not tired anymore.”

He loves to think of the children playing with the toys he has made, imagining them tagging along behind their mothers at the market, rolling the toys up and down any available surface.

His most popular toy is a small wooden car that he refers to as a “pocket car” because it is small enough to fit in a pocket, and tucks nicely into the corner of a shoebox. He estimates that of more than 113,000 toys he has finished, about 80,000 of them were pocket cars.

“I know that they’re going to a child who is in need, and is gonna really enjoy the goods that’s in the shoebox,” he said.

Most of his toys have wheels, even the whimsical elephant and duck, which he draws eyes onto. The helicopter has a twirling blade, and a train engine has a tiny smokestack.

His Family of Four was inspired by the paper dolls his daughters used to play with—a mother, father, boy and girl that are packaged together so little girls can play house.

“My week is just almost filled up with toys,” Clyde said.

Six to eight hours a day, six days a week, Clyde is busy in his workshop. Cutting, shaping, sanding, and drilling. On average, he makes 10,000 toys per year.

Most of Clyde’s toys have wheels, and he draws faces on some of them, such as the animals.

Most of Clyde’s toys have wheels, and he draws faces on some of them, such as the animals.

“When I got to 100,000, that was my goal,” he said. “And when I reached that, people asked ‘What are you gonna do now?’ Well, I might just work on another 100,000. It took me 10 years to get that first 100,000. If the Lord wills, He’ll let me live to be about 80 or 85 and if I can still do it, I might reach another 100,000. Who knows? It’s just wherever He leads me.”

As a father and grandfather, he feels it is important for children to develop through play, but he knows that many children do not have that opportunity because they may not have fathers. If they do, the fathers may not be able to provide toys for the children.

“It just fills me with a sense of purpose, I guess you might say, that I have really enlightened and filled a child with a joy that maybe that child hadn’t had in a long time,” he said.

He is motivated by the need in developing countries, which was expressed to him by his missionary friends in Haiti. They explained that toys can be an unimaginable luxury to children who are elated if they are able to get the school supplies they need. He also draws inspiration from thousands of people across the country, who use their talents and resources to pack shoeboxes.

“I don’t get tired making toys,” he said. “Well, I do in a way, but overall, I don’t because I look at the map and I know that this is my way of answering the Lord’s call to love thy neighbor.”

Clyde described toy making as his outlet for answering that call, and he feels led to continue making toys as long as he is able.

“He opens the door for me,” Clyde said. “I look in and He gives me a little nudge, and He has nudged me all the way to this. And I’m just so glad that I can serve.”

Clyde traces the pattern for one of his toys.

Clyde traces the pattern for one of his toys.

The map on his shop wall keeps Clyde motivated.

The map on his shop wall keeps Clyde motivated.

Clyde spends 6-8 hours a day in his woodshop, making toys for children in need.

Clyde spends 6-8 hours a day in his woodshop, making toys for children in need.

Clyde sands one of his most popular toys, the pocket car.

Clyde sands one of his most popular toys, the pocket car.

Clyde secures a wheel onto the axle of a pocket car.

Clyde secures a wheel onto the axle of a pocket car.

More