NEW PALESTINE — Harold Raikes long has had a knack for building.
For 42 years, he worked on the assembly line at International Harvester assembling agriculture machinery and construction equipment.
In retirement, Raikes, 71, of New Palestine, still is building. Now he makes trucks, tractors, racecars and more — albeit on a smaller scale.
In his garage sit wood- crafting machines, and nearby shelves are filled with handmade wooden toys that will be given to needy children in the community.
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Raikes, whose son died several years ago in a car accident, said he just wants to spend his retirement time making children happy by giving them his handcrafted wooden toys.
“I don’t charge anything for the toys because I don’t want to make the big boss upstairs angry,” Raikes said pointing to the sky.
Freshly cut wood planks lean against a wall in his garage, ready for the next toy he’ll create.
When he’s not out riding his motorcycle, Raikes spends his days in the garage carefully crafting the cars and trucks.
“I look at a piece of wood, and I start to wonder what I can make out of it,” Raikes said. “I’m working on building a few grain trucks right now.”
Before trying to craft the toys, Raikes bought a few professionally crafted small, wooden trucks and cars to learn how they were made. Now, he’s a skilled woodworker building complex miniature semitrailer trucks with wheels.
It takes him about an hour and a half to build a simple truck. It’s time he doesn’t feel is wasted because the toy will bring hours of joy to the youngster who plays with it.
He gives most of the wood toys away unpainted to allow the children and parents to work on decorating them.
“It can be a good mom-and-daughter or dad-and-son project to paint them and sand them down together,” Raikes said.
Raikes and his good friend Joe Wisener will often fill the bags on their motorcycles with the toys and ride to parks throughout Indiana to give the toys to families in need. They enjoy playing Santa for the kids they deliver toys to.
“We stop and start talking with the parents first and then the kids, and then we hand out the toys,” Wisener said. “The young kids love them as long as the wheels work so they can push them around.”
Raikes’ youngest son, John Aaron Raikes, died in a car accident when he was 13. The tragedy deeply impacted his life, Raikes said. It showed him how tough life can be.
Now, he sees no reason not to spend time being kind to young children who might be in need.
Instead of spending his time being bitter and angry, he moved forward with his life, Raikes said. His wife of 44 years, Glenda Raikes, said her husband has found happiness in helping others.
“He is really enjoying this,” Glenda Raikes said. “He loves kids.”
She enjoys listening to the stories he tells after delivering the handmade toys. Recently, he took a train he built to a nursing home where her sister is living and went through the halls blowing a whistle.
“He was yelling, ‘All aboard!’” Glenda Raikes said with a laugh. “He’s got a great sense of humor.”
Raikes said his good friend John Batt of New Palestine, an expert in woodworking, got him started crafting objects out of wood. Batt, a former inner-city workshop teacher, inspired Raikes to become the craftsman he is today, Raikes said.
“He really got me going, because he’s like a college student, and I’m like a kindergarten student,” Raikes said with a laugh. “You should have seen a picture of some of the things I made when I first got started.”
Batt works with a national charity giving away his handcrafted toys. Raikes said he has no plans to do that; he’d rather give the toys to needy families he encounters.
However, he did make 12 wooden toy trains for the Hancock County Public Library Sugar Creek Branch. He hoped the trains might help kids enjoy reading.
“I’m the world’s worst speller and reader,” Raikes said, “and I thought they could use these to encourage kids to read.”