Laramie man creates one-of-a-kind toys
Laramie – Ben Arthur still remembers the toys his father and grandfather made for him. In fact, the Laramie toymaker has watched as those same toys he played with as a boy were played with by his own children and grandchildren.
Arthur worked in the auto mechanics field since graduating from high school. He worked for the school district in Laramie for 20 years and the University of Wyoming for 15 years.
“I knew I was going to have to quit doing mechanics eventually because of the petroleum and chemicals. During that course of time, I was looking for something to do to get away from it, and I started thinking about the toys my grandfather and father had made for me,” Arthur says. “I decided I wouldn’t mind getting into it myself and passing some of the things I made down to family members as heirlooms.”
Woodworking is not a cheap venture, so once Arthur made his decision to invest in the equipment, he started to buy a piece or two at a time as he could afford it.
“By the time I retired, I had acquired what I needed,” he says.
A vacant cabin that had been used by his children as a bunkhouse on his ranch west of Laramie became a woodshop.
“I moved all my equipment in there, and it works really well for me. We don’t have room to make furniture, but we can make a lot of small items,” he says.
Arthur and his wife Virginia make toy cars and trucks, airplanes and train sets. They also make a variety of puzzles. Most are 8.5 by 11 inches and feature everything from farm animals and wildlife to rodeo scenes.
“We make a Wyoming Wildlife Series that is a series of puzzles featuring a bear, buffalo, elk, moose, Bighorn sheep and an antelope. We also have what is called a ‘safari series’ that features an elephant, giraffe and a hippopotamus,” he says.
Puzzles are also made from silhouettes of farm animals.
“We also have board puzzles that are in a frame. We make a stand so the puzzle can be displayed on a mantle,” he notes.
Their best seller is a Wyoming map hand labeled with the name of the county, designated number of the county and the county seat.
The Arthurs proudly accept custom orders.
“I’ve always been good at drawing pictures,” Arthur says. “My dad taught me, because he was always good at it. He could draw a silhouette of a horse on a sheet of paper.”
“If someone hands me a picture of something they found it a magazine, I won’t copy it exactly, but I will take the idea and create something of my own from it,” he says. “I’ve even had people sketch things on napkins, and if I can do it, we e-mail back and forth until they are happy with the design.”
Arthur finds making toys from wood as rewarding.
“I love what I do, and I’ve always liked to make things,” he explains. “As a kid, I would go out to dad and grandpa’s scrap iron pile and gather up some iron and make something like a trailer. If we needed something in the barn, I would pick through a pile of wood and make it.”
“It is rewarding for me to take a piece of wood and actually make something that means something to someone else,” Arthur says.
Arthur recalls one of his most memorable creations. Some friends they had known a long time had a daughter graduate from high school. The Arthurs had watched the girl grow up and wanted to create something memorable for her.
“I made her a wooden jewelry box in the shape of a heart that locked. I made it out of exotic wood like walnut, maple and redwood. It took me a long time to make it, and I was proud to present it to her at graduation,” Arthur explains.
“Just the look on her face and the awe at what I had created gave me the biggest thrill I’ve ever had from something I have made,” he recalls. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. I would do it over and over again. She will have it to treasure as long as she lives, and it had a lot of meaning to both of us.”
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.