There are no reindeers in Abbotsford’s version of a North Pole toy factory.
Albert Waardenburg also doesn’t employ any elves or have any magical abilities to transport a sleigh all across the globe, but even Old Saint Nick himself would likely be impressed by both his creativity and generosity.
The smell of freshly cut wood is overwhelming the moment one enters the Waardenburg workshop, tucked away in a house on Lion Court, in east Abbotsford.
The second thing one notices are the gadgets.
Scattered throughout the area are a number of machines, all designed by Albert Waardenburg with the aim of increasing production efficiency.
The third thing is the trucks – thousands of trucks: body frames, wheels and the screws used to attach them all.
It’s this combination that makes the magic that is a Christmas Child Box.
Albert and his son Ron first became connected to the project five years ago.
Abe Funk, Albert’s brother-in-law, knew a man who produced small wooden cars that were placed in boxes and given to children. The man had passed away, leaving the project dormant. After meeting with his family, Albert decided to revive the cars. He also made a slight adjustment, moving to a truck design.
The past five years have seen Albert and his son create thousands of cars that have shipped all over the world to developing countries. This Christmas season, the duo will create and ship more than 3,000.
Albert said decades spent in the dairy industry in Abbotsford helped fuel his creativity and passion for innovation.
“I was in dairy farming for 30 or 40 years and we did everything ourselves on the farm,” he said. “You have to be able to do all that, otherwise you just don’t survive.”
While operating his farm, Albert also worked for a milking machine company for a number of years. It was in that position that he learned electronics and electrical work. That ingenuity can be seen in several of the original machines Albert has constructed to speed up the sometimes tedious and assembly-line like work involved in the trucks.
“It’s an ongoing thing,” he said about how he comes up with the machines. “Sometimes at 5 a.m. when you’re lying in bed and your mind is going you think about how we can do this better and that better. These machines are all to make things more efficient for us.”
There are machines to cut the wood into frames and wheels, a machine that punches the screw into a wheel operated by a foot pedal and a machine that also cuts holes in the frame for the wheels. The devices all help save precious time as Albert and Ron try to complete all their work.
The wood for all the trucks is donated by a Langley lumber store and brought to the Waardenburg workshop by a family member. Father and son cut the wood, then put the pieces together. Albert estimates each truck takes about 10 to 15 minutes of labour.
The work day starts early and can sometimes go well into the late-afternoon.
“It’s an all-day thing,” Albert said. “We start at 6 a.m. on almost every day and do take a few hours off for lunch. But I’m 80 years old now so I have to watch myself a bit and not push myself too hard.”
Abbotsford area churches place orders on the vehicles and they are shipped in Christmas boxes that are distributed throughout the world. Toys have been sent to countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Albert pointed out that many shipments have also gone to refugee camps throughout the world.
“Sometimes on TV they show you what’s going on in some of the countries my trucks have gone,” he said. “I always look and see if they are around and sometimes they are.”
One benefit of the time in the workshop for Albert has been the opportunity to spend more time with his son. Ron, who lives with his parents, competed at the Special Olympics in curling and track and field, and Albert said it’s nice having a hand in the workshop.
“Ron helps me on daily basis,” he said. “He has epilepsy and has also lost a kidney so he can’t really hold down a job regularly. But this is all beautiful for him. He’s great at cleaning up the shop and helping me and it gives us a chance to bond.”
But it hasn’t been all joyful for Albert. He grew discouraged at one critical point during the five years he has been creating the toys. He remembers shipping off about 100 of the trucks to Mexico and then never hearing back.
“In my discouragement I talked to the Lord about the toys – whether I should keep doing it and how hard I work – if it was worth it,” he recalled. “About 30 minutes later my brother-in-law’s wife called me and asked if I could use some company. They came over and she had a bag with a book full of thank you’s and photos from the people in Mexico. It couldn’t have come at a better time and it got me over the hump – it was so wonderful hearing from them.”
Albert said that feedback and the fact that he is making Christmas a little more special for people all over the world make the hard work, effort and early mornings worth it.
“It’s gratifying,” he said. “A number of people have told me that I should sell these and charge money but that’s just not for me. This should be a free thing.”
Albert said he would accept any donations or help from the general public as he builds for this year and the future. He always needs new blades, belts and tools.
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