For about 40 years, Lawrence Miller of Archbold has handcrafted toy puzzle trains that have sold at benefit auctions across the United States.
This weekend, the last train Miller will ever make will be sold at the Black Swamp Benefit at Archbold High School.
“I learned woodworking from my dad. I worked for him when I was a teenager, summers, and when I wasn’t in school,” Miller said.
“Some of the stuff we made was bedside stands. Those were sold nationwide through Sauder Manufacturing.
“We probably made thousands of them in my dad’s shop and sold them through Erie Sauder.”
“I’ve been making these (trains) for close to 40 years. Maybe not quite that long, but I’ve made, altogether, almost 150 of them.”
“A long time ago, I saw one something like this. That’s where I got the idea from.
“But I got the idea of making it out of 22 different kinds of wood and labeling them. That was all my own idea,” Miller said.
“The basic pattern was pretty much something I saw that somebody else had made, just as a toy– a kid’s puzzle.”
He started out by giving one to each of his seven children.
“After the children grew up, I gave one to each of my grandchildren,” Miller said.
A total of 18 trains “went to my grandchildren.
“Other than that, they’ve all gone to charity auctions.”
His trains have sold at the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale at Kidron, the Indiana Michigan Relief Sale in Elkhart, Ind., the Fairlawn Auxiliary Auction, the Sarasota Christian School Sale, Sarasota, Fla., and at least one at a benefit sale in Mississippi for the Mennonite church at Gulfport, Miss.
“I sold one or two at the Texas Relief Sale. They were sold all over the place,” Miller said.
“Since Black Swamp started, I think I’ve sold one there every year.”
$24 And Up
Prices on his trains have ranged anywhere from $24 to $165.
“I think the cheapest was the first one I sold at a Fairlawn Auction,” Miller said.
“The highest priced one I ever sold went for $165 at the Ohio Relief Sale at Kidron. It was bought by the president of the Kidron Lumber Company.”
“The second highest one was $135 at one of the Sarasota Christian School sales. The bulk of them have sold between $65 and $100.”
The trains are put together as a puzzle, and are made out of 22 different kinds of wood, most of which are native to Northwest Ohio.
“I had one kind of wood that only grows in two places in the world,” Miller said.
“One is out in Oregon, and the other is over in the Middle East, in the Holy Land. I don’t think there’s any of that in this train. I only had a small piece, and only made maybe a half a dozen with that.”
Woods like black walnut, red elm/slippery elm, wild cherry/black cherry, white oak/stave oak, red oak/gray oak, and red mulberry are just a few of the types used for the pieces.
Each piece is number stamped, and comes with a laminated directory to which type of wood corresponds to each number.
Different, Yet The Same
“All of these (trains) were different, but every one was made to fit the pattern,” Miller said. “They were not nearly all made the same.”
“This is the last one I have, and the last one it will be.
“I can’t make them anymore.”