Retiree uses Web to carve niche in toy market

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:34 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gary Naylor’s eyes light up when he shows off what he can do with wood. Surrounded by wooden trains, airplanes, dump trucks and race cars in his basement workshop at 2318 Windmill Court, he often stays up past midnight working on things people tell him can’t be done.

“There’s never a dull moment around here,” he said. “I just have so much fun with it.”

Naylor, who is 65 and retired, is exploring new territory with his first love, carpentry. He and his partner of 27 years, Linda Wagner, started The Wooden Depot, a home-based business that sells handmade toys, puzzles and other objects, some of them with a twist. Naylor laughs as he reveals a hidden compartment on the underside of a toy train that can be used to store valuables.

“Most carpenters now don’t have the patience it takes to build toys,” Wagner said. “Gary can make just about anything with wood.”

Naylor learned from a man he considered a master craftsman — his father. From the time Naylor was in diapers, he was under his father’s feet, helping him build bookshelves, staircases and cabinets in their combination sawmill and workshop in Holts Summit, Naylor said.

“His dad was extremely talented and very patient with Gary,” Wagner said.

Naylor said his father built the nose of the first jet airplane at McDonald’s Lambert Airport in St. Louis. Naylor took over his father’s position at the Holts Summit shop in 1969. The shop burned down in 1983, and Naylor moved to Columbia where he worked on much larger, outdoor construction projects before he retired in 1999.

Now that he’s working on a smaller scale, Naylor plans to build whatever he wants he said. And he considers himself fortunate to be doing it as a new business.

“After you work for yourself, there is nothing that compares,” he said.

It hasn’t always been easy, though. When Naylor’s handmade toys weren’t selling at craft shows and flea markets, he and Wagner ended up donating many of them to the Salvation Army and local hospitals. Then Wagner suggested last fall that Naylor create a Web site for The Wooden Depot, which opened a new market for the couple.

“I think more toys will sell now because they are marketed around the nation,” Wagner said. “A lot of people like wooden toys, and you can hand them down for generations.”

Naylor still gets a lot of his orders from people he knows, as well as from people who are already familiar with his work.

His friend, Fred West, saw one of Naylor’s toy trains and asked the carpenter to make him one as well. But perhaps West’s favorite piece is a coffin bearer Naylor made for a local funeral home.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous and immaculate, strictly hand built,” West said.

Naylor enjoys passing along his knowledge of woodworking to other carpenters, especially the younger ones.

“A lot of knowledge he has about wood is being lost because the young people aren’t picking it up,” Wagner said. “It’s a dying skill.”

Naylor plans to stay busy by keeping that skill alive and doing what he’s always loved.

“A lot of people never get to enjoy their retirement,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

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