“The best kept secret in Cambridge” describes the Cambridge Wooden Toy Co on Dewey Avenue. Here Brian Gray creates toys and trains with craftsmanship difficult to surpass. He’s been making these extraordinarily detailed carvings since 1976, first in his basement and then in a small shop beside his home.
Brian grew up in Seattle, where his father worked as a fireman on trains. As a child, Brian used to ride the switch engines around the train yard. He and his brother would play being engineer and fireman. Having a father in the railroad world, gave them many opportunities for train rides.
Therefore, Brian acquired a passion for trains that has never been squelched. His main inspiration for carving engines came from Ernest Warther, world’s master carver of Dover. When Brian told his brother about how he would like to try carving, his brother’s response was “I’m tired of hearing you talk about it. Do it.” And that’s what Brian did.
Over the years, Brian studied engineering and when drafted into the Army, studied General Engineering there. Upon the end of his military service, jobs were scarce. A friend told him they were hiring in Cambridge at NCR. With his engineering background, Brian decided to give it a try…and has been here ever since.
Woodworking has been his hobby for years. Sometimes he did carpenter work building decks and gazebos or remodeling houses. But Brian wanted to do something where he had the freedom to choose what he made.
1982 was the first year he made toys. In 1983, he decided to exhibit at the Salt Fork Festival. There he sold almost all the toys he had made, plus he won first prize for an oil field tractor trailer with a bulldozer on the back. That success made him decide to work five hours each day making toys before heading to his regular job. Brian has been participating in the festival ever since.
But making toys and trains isn’t his only pastime. He also does upholstery and repairs wooden furniture. When visiting, Brian was refinishing the arms on chairs for the Barnesville Library.
His specialty engines are carved intricately from wood. Some of these engines have won first place at shows such as the Ohio State Fair, Salt Fork Festival, and Tri State Woodworking Show.
Each year Brian makes one new wooden engine to add to his increasing collection, which he displays for those who visit his Great Steam Locomotive Engine Museum. All the engines are made on a 1-18 scale out of walnut. Right now there are seven large locomotives in his museum.
His Alaskan Railroad # 557 won first prize in woodworking at the Ohio State Fair in 2016. This was done in memory of Brian’s father, who worked as a fireman on the rails of Alaska.
Rocking horses, cascading marbles, and many wooden toys make great Christmas gifts. No nails are used, just wooden pins, and he’s careful that edges are rounded and smooth for the child’s protection. His toys are so strong, they last for generations. Brian has been making these toys for over forty years. Presently, he makes 72 different toys in his shop.
While Brian sells his toys, he’s doesn’t do his wood carving for the money. Many hours are spent to make each toy and sometimes he figures he makes about $1.50 per hour. “I love doing it. I keep my prices low. Haven’t changed prices in five years.”
The blueprint is ready for next year’s engine project. The Golden Spike National Historic Site sent him the blueprints of the original engines on a CD. Then the map department printed it off 1- 18 scale. He’s going to do a scene for the first time. It will be two engines meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the driving of the “Golden Spike” connected east to west.
Brian still has a dream for a place in Cambridge where he could display his trains, and other local train enthusiasts could find a home for theirs as well. His eyes are on the original Train Depot as the perfect place for a museum to attract visitors to our area. Keep dreaming, Brian, you never know what the future may hold.
At his small museum, children and young-at-heart adults are free to play with the toys. There is no cost to visit so head up to 515 Dewey Avenue and walk inside. You’ll be amazed at such talent right here in Cambridge. Then you’ll want to share this “best kept secret” with your friends.
Cambridge Wooden Toy Co can easily be reached off old Route 40 through Cambridge, Ohio. At the west end of town is a viaduct over Wills Creek and the railroad tracks. The Toy Co is straight south of here at 515 Dewey Ave.