ANSONIA — Harry Niswonger of Arcanum has done it again. He won the 23rd annual wooden toy contest at the Ansonia Lumber Co. on Saturday morning with a merry-go-round complete with a swing.
Scott Phillips of television’s American Woodshop once again had a difficult time of choosing the top toy.
“I think of all the time all of you people have put into all of these things,” he said. “You all deserve a prize. These will bring more joy than any store-bought toy. This is what matters right here at the holidays. That’s what it’s all about. Things you can’t buy matters during the holiday.”
Phillips was told by Niswonger that he drove 400-some miles to get some more lumber for this project he won with.
“It’s a work of art,” Phillips told him, and then asked Niswonger how many hours he put into the project.
“If you knew, you wouldn’t do it,” Niswonger told the judge.
Niswonger said he has been entering the contest for six years and has received four firsts and two seconds.
“A couple of them were held on my birthday,” the top winner said.
Phillips then selected John Burnett’s train/sand box for the second best toy; Neal Pleiman’s table and chairs puzzle for third; Harold Alley’s Monopoly/checkers game board for fourth; and Neal Burns’ track hoe for fifth place.
When Phillips chose Burnett’s project, he remarked, “This is one I would spend all week on with the kids in style. It has casters on it so it will roll around. It has a train that runs and sand underneath, It’s an heirloom.” For Pleiman’s entry, he stated, “This will see the next 100 years.” His comments to Alley were, “This could easily be number one. It’s the draw of the card.”
Burnett told Phillips he used hackberry wood for his project. His entry included two trains, a sand box and a whole set of John Deere farm toys.
“I’ve been working on this for about three weeks,” said Burnett, who also started competing six years ago. “I took first three years ago and placed in the top five last year.”
He said it’s a little difficult coming up with something new each year. When he thinks about his yearly project, Burnett, who is the third generation woodworker in the family, wants the children to use their imagination and think things out when they play with his toys.
As Phillips looked over a John Deere tractor with a miniature driver on it, he said, “This one means the most to me…my grandpa on a John Deere tractor and those memories define me.”
He gave a box of chocolate to Allen Cox, who made the marshmallow slingshot.
“This is what I would have wanted under a tree,” Phillips said as he took shots at various people in the crowd. “The 100 things here will mean 100 different things to 100 different children. I would like to know their stories about the difference these make in children’s lifetime.”
Niswonger’s entry and the toys of the other 16 contestants have been donated to Toys For Tykes, making Christmas a little brighter for needy children.
Other entrants were Gerald Brehm, Allen Cox, Kelly Boram, Kenneth Pence, Jimmie Lawrence, Donald Pearson, Shorty Schauer, Byron Brehm, Michael Cole, Ron Myers, Gene Oliver and Mike Foreman.
Winners received: Grand prize [for Niswonger], an engraved Case knife and gift box and a $50 Ansonia Lumber Co. gift certificate; second place, a $100 Ansonia Lumber Co. gift certificate; third place, a Workshop knife sharpener and extra belts; fourth, a tool bag and hand tools; and fifth place, a tool bag.
Frank Miller Lumber Outlet again donated hardwood lumber for all of the contestants. Judging was based on style, originality and quality by Phillips, who also presented each of the contestants with American Woodshop notepads.
“In the last 12 years, we have had 264 million viewers,” Phillips told the crowd. “Life is going well and woodworking is solid in America.”
He then closed with, “You have the biggest hearts I have ever known. I can’t be with a better group of people. I really want some of these things; they’re cool. It’s not Christmas until I come over here. It’s the only contest in America that I judge.”
Among items on display was a framed photograph of Charlie Foreman, who died June 2.
“Charlie was in every one of these events,” said Phillips. “God bless him. He had the best smile of anyone of all. Mitch [McCabe, who organizes this event each year] knew him for 40 years.”
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