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Native Illinois craftsman creates toys for show
By CINDY LADAGE Illinois Correspondent ELLISVILLE, Ill. — Warren Simons and his wooden wagons and other farm toys were part of the toy show in Ellisville on March 11. The show took place in the 1880 Opera House the town is renovating. Outside, there were even a few antique tractors on display. Located along the scenic Spoon River Drive, Ellisville boasts a Christian Church that is more than 100 years old, a U.S. Post Office museum and the smallest library in Illinois. The Spoon River Festival takes place during the first two weekends of October each year. Simon sets up during that festival, at a toy show in Cuba, Ill., and at this annual event, the Ellisville Toy Show. Part of the river basin, Ellisville is located near the river that was named for the mussel shells local Indians used as spoon utensils. The Indian name for the river was Amaquonsippi, which translates into “Spoon River.” Simons is a Spoon River-area native. “I grew up north west of Fairview on a farm,” he said. It was on that farm that Simons first experimented with woodworking and toy-making. “We didn’t have any electricity, and I used a gas engine to run a jigsaw. I started out working on wood way back then,” he said. Besides farming, Simons was a miner. Soon to be 80, these days he enjoys creating his wooden models, and at the show had a series of unique wagons to share with visitors. On the farm, he started out on the jigsaw, but said these days he has moved up, with both electricity and machinery. “Now I use a scroll saw. It takes a little ingenuity,” he said about the unique wooden wagons he crafts. “It takes about six to eight hours by the time you get a pattern cut down, and so on.” Although Simons has been working with wood for quite some time, he just began the wagon series last fall. “I bought the patterns to be a winter project – I bought them in September and made them by October. Some were easier than others,” he added. The buggy series included some common ones and several unusual ones. One neat aspect of Simon’s display was that he had a bit of history included with each of his patterned wooden wagons. There was a Piano Box Buggy, which he explained was introduced around 1850, the Old West sounding Buckboard and the Portland Cutter, a standard sleigh used commonly at the turn of the century. Wagons also included the Wagonette, a carriage popular with large farm families, as well as the Phaeton, which doctors used in the 1860s. The Farm Wagon was the universal wagon coupled with a horse. These were just a few of the many wagons Simons had on hand. He soon found the wagon patterns were a bit easy for him, so for more of a challenge, he took the patterns and created his own version of the original wagons. “I made the smaller versions, and I like them better,” he said. Besides his wagons, Warren also had a few trucks he had built, as well as a John Deere crawler. “I used a scroll saw and a table saw,” he said. “The tracks took a while to do; it was good to put it together.”