Charity begins with wood scraps Craftsman's touch: Talbot County man spends the year toiling over toy trucks that he'll give to poor children at Christmastime.

November 10, 1995|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

BOZMAN -- It seems almost irreverent to call them toys, these little trucks that James Harvey makes by hand. There is love and craftsmanship in every line and curve, as tangible and warm as the grain that runs through the longleaf yellow pine he uses.

They fill his living room, spilling out of boxes and sitting under the coffee table. Soon they'll be gone, on their way to churches for auction or to Mr. Harvey's brother in Virginia for distribution to the poor.

"At least half of them will be somebody's Christmas," Mr. Harvey says in his diffident way. The rest will help the needy, too: they'll be sold at church auctions, and the money raised will be sent to disaster victims.

It's the second year Mr. Harvey has made the trucks, working mostly from patterns sent by his brother, who has been doing it for 15 years. Mr. Harvey works on them all year round in his James E. Harvey Millworks, a sprawling workshop behind his house near this little town in Talbot County. Week after week, the truck fleet grows, an hour here, an evening there, filling a table in his shop and boxes in his house.

"It does take a lot of time," he says. "You do it for a day, put it down for a couple of weeks."

Each one takes two hours or more. But he has found the time this year to make more than 300 of them. Dump trucks, with parts that really tip and move. Jeep Cherokees -- "I drew that, and then he made it!" says his wife, Anna, with obvious pride in her husband's skill. Little pickup trucks and flatbeds, even a logging truck or two, every one so realistically shaped in wood that even an adult hand is tempted to give them a little push.

All of them are made from leftover wood, Mr. Harvey says -- scraps and blocks from his woodworking business. He makes the hand tongs used for oystering by many area watermen, and he also specializes in flooring and architectural millwork: carved mantels, molding and doors for houses.

"Instead of throwing the scraps away, I make the trucks," he says. Mr. Harvey doesn't sell the trucks. Instead, he gives them away, and other people raise money or brighten holidays with them, he says.

"We've given them to three different auctions this year," he says. One auction, at the Church of the Brethren in Westminster, sold six of them for between $35 and $50 apiece. Thirty or so will be given to Talbot County's daily newspaper, the Star-Democrat, for sale at an annual charitable auction.

And some of them will go to Mr. Harvey's customers, the ones who come in and see them in his workshop and say, "Ohhhh, I wouldn't mind having one of those. "

Mr. Harvey's trucks will make their way to at least four states. In addition to Maryland and Virginia, some will go to South Carolina, where a cousin distributes them. And some were sold last weekend at an auction in Pennsylvania -- "an Amish school benefit auction," he says.

He's already planning next year's truck model: he wants to find old metal and glass post office box doors so he can make trucks with real doors that open.

Why does he do it?

"You've got to keep your mind working," he says. "Always been working with wood, that's all I've ever done. It's wood I can't really use. "

He smiles suddenly as a thought strikes him.

"Got more trucks than Raymond Elliott's got!" he says, referring to a local trucking firm.

Mrs. Harvey has her own kind of childlike enthusiasm for the trucks.

"Each one has a different motor," she tells a visitor. And, visualizing how the little trucks might sound, she makes some "vroom-vroom" noises to illustrate her point.

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