It’s not Christmas and it’s not a birthday celebration, but every day presents are handed out in the small town of Ripon.
Locals know him as “the Toy Man,” but his real name is Ernie Wheeler and he makes small wooden cars in shop.
“I love seeing bright looks on children’s faces,” said Wheeler.
On any given day you will find him handing out toys at parks or local restaurants. The 85-year-old is a retired engineer from Lockheed Martin, but he fine-tuned his carpentry skills in the military. These days he spends his mornings in his woodworking shop, cutting car-shaped blocks out of pine wood. Wheeler produces about 10 to 20 cars a day and he has been doing it for the past 10 years.
“I figure I have made about 5,000,” estimated Wheeler.
All the cars are painted the same color: Red with yellow wheels. The signature shape is Wheler’s design, but he got some inspiration from his favorite sports car.
“I used to fix up old Ford Mustangs, so I kind of made the wooden cars after its shape,” said Wheeler.
It costs him about $8 to make each wooden car. He uses the money from his two rental properties to fund his project.
“I do it because I didn’t have toys when I was a kid. I came from a poor family. I want kids to have toys,” said Wheeler.
If you want to see some of Wheeler’s work, or the smiles on kids’ faces, he is out just about every day in Ripon. If you have some wood you want to donate, he will take it off your hands.