SOUTH EGREMONT — The two daughters of L. Berdan Goetschius of this village were, as small girls, certainly among the luckiest of all children. Their father is a toymaker, a master craftsman in the design and construction of all kinds of wooden toys.

Indian camps, medieval castles, stockades, wagons, sleds and trucks are a few of the items Mr. Goetschius has specialized in handcrafting for 19 years.

The Christmas season is the focal point of the year's work. This year he will have sent close to 3,000 of his intricate multi-pieced creations to F.A.O. Schwarz in New York City.

The making of a toy is a devoted and painstaking task for the Egremont craftsman. In his spotless remodeled barn shop at the foot of Baldwin Hill, Mr. Goetschius' activities run the gamut from design through cutting, assembling and silk-screening to shipping.

The width of a saw cut and the time it will take to glue green-dyed sawdust moss on medieval turrets are some of the factors to be calculated exactly in the design. Shipping compactness and the expense of labor and materials, mostly AA grade plywood and Vermont pine, must also be considered. 

"Driving nails is the biggest problem," he pointed out. If a nail bends or the wood splits the whole piece must be discarded. On a single day he has driven as many as 5,000 nails. Cutting wood is far more satisfactory work, Mr. Goetschius said.

He boasts of only one loss in 19 years through an error in cutting, made by an assistant. The one rule of his shop is to "check, check again, and check again. It's the more economical way to make a good toy," Mr. Goetschius went on.

Making and drawing his own silkscreens to apply the bright colors to his toys finishes them but for packing and shipping.

Hubbard Brook tore out an end wall and rose three feet above the shop floor in the August flood. More than 87,000 separate pieces of toys were washed down the rampaging stream, along with all the designs and construction plans of 19 years of work. The summer's work rushed downstream and that, plus damage to material and parts in the shop, destroyed almost half of Mr. Goetschius' working capital.

Making up his losses will be tough work for the toymaker, who finds skilled help hard to come by.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.