The Duncan Banner
Eighty-year-old Gerald Marlar hasn’t ridden a bicycle regularly for decades, but he and five of his buddies are making certain Duncan children get that opportunity this Christmas.
It’s just one of many behind-the-scenes stories that makes The Toy Shop, started by Church Women United in 1944, a special place where magical things happen and selfless, giving deeds create bright, toothpaste smiles each holiday season.
Marlar, Bill Cope, Glen Peterson, Tom Stone, Ron Coon and Joe Norton have become modern day elves, logging hours in The Toy Shop’s busy bicycle room on Ninth Street, assembling two-wheel masterpieces of all sizes and colors for good little boys and girls and adding a dash of love with each one.
After all, what says Christmas to a child more effectively than a shiny bike?
More than 200 will be distributed when the big delivery or pick-up day arrives in less than two weeks, ending a year-long production cycle known for its efficiency and skill and rewarded by a giving community whose generosity makes it the largest number ever.
The team works every Monday from 9 to 5 from September through Christmas.
“Some guys go to R&S Drug for coffee,” Marlar said, explaining the why of the team’s mission. “We work on bikes. Oh, we shoot the breeze, learn more and more about each other and look forward to our project each year. It’s fun.
“Bikes are special. Most of us remember them from our childhood and just the thought of helping a young person get his first one is special, really special. I get a little fuzzy feeling, just thinking about it.”
A growing number of donated bicycles are new these days. They need little attention. But most remain used, worn and demand repair. Some take 20 to 30 minutes; others four to five hours.
Bikes arrive at the old Latham Plumbing building on Willow and are moved into repair mode as space at The Toy Shop becomes available.
They come in all sizes, usually from 12-inch to 26-inch wheels, for boys, girls or either, in a rainbow of colors like purple, green, pink, red, white, silver, blue, gray and orange, with decals and logos and names like Mongoose, Razor, Next, Huffy, Spiderman, Kent, Roadmaster, Barbie and even that old favorite Schwinn.
Work usually ranges from replacing seats, installing new handle bars, cleaning stripped gears, fixing damaged chains, applying decals and patching tubes to adding new tires. A thorough washing in a special vat and a coat of Armor All make possible a final, like-new polished look.
Painting isn’t necessary.
An average day generates 20 ready-to-ride bikes.
All are catalogued in a slightly worn Bike Book that lists each bike, its size, model and style, description, recipient, gender, parents’ name and address.
“It’s important,” Marlar, a Texaco retiree who has been building bikes 15 years, explained, “to make certain each child gets the right bike and the correct size.”
Once finished and assigned, the bicycles are stored in part of what used to be the old Edwards Home Furnishings building, primed for delivery day and a lot of activity.
“Ninety percent of them,” he said, “have that special sparkle and we’re proud of each one. But sometimes, there is a little scar or ding we can’t fix. I worry about that. As a Christmas gift you want them to be perfect. Maybe one day they’ll all be new and we’ll be out of a job. Now that would be great.”
Until then, the process will likely continue, embellished by a hands-on personal touch unlike many community projects
“A lot of my friends do a lot of good things,” Marlar said. “It’s what makes our town the place it is. This is just my thing; it’s where I fall. And all of us are grateful for the chance to help others, especially kids.”
One other, final chore nears as the 2013 process winds down.
Two days before delivery, he, Cope, Peterson, Stone, Coon and Norton check all the tires one last time. They air those in need, fix those with little holes or bad valves and replace those beyond help.
“Do you know how long it takes to work on 400 tires,” he asked, grinning. “It’s why we all feel a deep whoosh of relief when Christmas finally arrives.”
It’s also a reason Christmas is merry for many.
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