A little boy rushes into Joe Markanthony's Easton home. Dismissing salutations, the youngster darts for an intricate poplar train set carved by the crafty hands of Markanthony in his pristine basement shop.
Markanthony has been creating toys and furniture for more than 40 years, and his home is teaming with his handiwork. A wall-to-wall oak cabinet sits in his dining room, looking out to the custom wall paneling and trim work inspired by the dormitories at the University of Notre Dame, where one of his sons went to school.
"It's just a hobby," he says of his woodwork, shrugging off any semblance of ego. "I don't try to make any money off it. I just give them away."
He and his wife, Vickie, did make one attempt to market his collection of choo choos and other children's toys. "We had this one little craft show, and we called it 'Splinters and Pegs.'... The reason for that was, I was the peg that held the thing together and [Vickie] was the thorn in my side," he says with a laugh.
Vickie handles the sanding and finishing, a critical aspect, according to Joe. At the craft show, they sold every one of their pieces in two hours.
His foundation in woodworking was laid during his service in the Marine Corps. He started with small end tables and eventually found himself making his first train set in 1978. Its still in his workshop.
As he ages, he seems to find muses in the mundane. "When you cut a piece of wood, sometimes the scrap piece of wood gives you ideas," he says. "It could be as simple as a shadow. ... All of a sudden the sun is hitting differently and you say, 'Oh, that looks nice. ... You get [ideas] many different ways."
Joe says his true joy is seeing the smiling faces on children as they play with one of his trains. He also enjoys a good challenge. "The joy now, for me, is to have a problem and try to lick the problem," he said. "I enjoy having a stumbling block and overcoming it. ... You have to take a risk."
Vickie and Joe have been married 32 years and have three children and seven grandchildren.
Do you have a handmade toy that Joe made? Tell us about it in the comment box below.
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