By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Amid the hum of palm sanders and whir of a wood saw, Arnold resident Bob Manning is giving the jolly, red-clad elf in the North Pole a run for his money.
Early each year in his downstairs workshop, Manning and a group of retired area residents begin a weekly endeavor. Their goal: to craft about 200 wooden toys by Christmas for needy children throughout Calaveras County.
In doing so, these seniors with diverse backgrounds become the Ebbetts Pass Elves.
Elves make toys and were from Ebbetts Pass, said Manning, as fellow elves sanded parts for rocking horses and miniature trucks. It just sounds good.
These elves, minus the pointy ears and funny hats, are indeed creative and productive. They turn out flexible dinosaurs and colorful dolls with cradles. They construct multi-car train sets, with hopper cars that carry and dump cargo. And trucks are always a hot item this years model will feature a trailer with opening rear doors.
I try to introduce one new toy each year, Manning said. Just so the guys working dont get bored.
Just before Christmas, the Ebbetts Pass Elves deliver their finished products to the San Andreas Town Hall. Distributing the toys is Santas Express, a non-profit group that supports low-income families.
Aside from his family life, Manning rank what goes on in his workshop as number one on his list of life accomplishments.
The elves, as far as Im concerned, rank head and shoulders above other things. The need is there. There are so many kids who, without support from the community, are not going to have toys for Christmas, he said.
Manning seldom handles tools when working among his elves. Hes usually more of a foreman, answering his co-workers questions and making sure the operation is running smoothly.
He does a lot of behind-the-scenes work, too. He collects about $2,500 in community donations to cover the groups operating expenses. He stretches that money ever further by getting lumber and supplies at discount rates.
Weekly Arts and entertainment guide for Calaveras and Tuolumne counties