Career as wooden-toy craftsman passed from father to son
Marysville man finds his calling in the craft his father taught him
Courtesy of Matt Todd
Greg Rounds works on a penny-farthing bicycle in his Marysville workshop in the early 1990s. Rounds, who died at 57 in 2003, made only 12 of the intricate 1800s-style bicycles.
Michael O'Leary / The Herald
A toy truck with colorful barrels.
Marysville toymaker Jason Rounds drills holes for a ferry boat toy. He helped his father, who died in 2003, design the toy.
Michael O'Leary / The Herald
The intricate pedal and spokes of an penny-farthing bicycle made by Marysville toy maker Greg Rounds. Today his son, Jason Rounds, is carrying on his father's toy-making art.
Michael O'Leary/The Herald Details of a wooden centipede that rolls by Marysville toy maker Jason Rounds.
One of Rounds' wooden ferry boat toys.
He's the son of a toymaker, a second-generation, modern-day Geppetto at 37 years old, inspired by his father, who was inspired by him.
Rounds' creations are unlike so many mass-market toys sold these days. They are crafted by hand and made of hardwoods such as alder and maple, not plastic.
In his cheerful Marysville workshop, happy green centipedes sport tiny straw hats and little wooden legs that move energetically when their strings are pulled. Ducks on wheels wear handmade blue bonnets. Black Scotties with red wheels boast plaid collars.
Rounds' web-based, word-of-mouth business is bustling. He's busy right now, like an elf, with orders for the holidays.
"Every Christmas morning, you just think about the kids, from newborn to 90, who are opening the gifts that you made," Rounds said.
His pieces will go to toddlers who need tough, non-toxic toys as well as adults, who collect his intricately designed, more expensive wooden trains. Prices start at $4 and go to up to $330, but most toys are in the $15 to $35 range.
Rounds' unusual calling started when he was just weeks old.
He was in his crib when his father noticed he was captivated by the shapes dangling from his mobile.
Inspired, his father, Greg Rounds, an industrial arts teacher, went into his workshop. He made four large wooden toys based on the basic shapes in the mobile -- an airplane, a dog, a duck and a car.
He made them larger and more alive than the mobile, with spherical, spinning wheels and brilliant paint colors.
Soon after, the new father started making toys for friends. Then his wife, Meg, started selling them at Tupperware-style parties.
Yearning to work for himself and see more of his newborn son, he quit his teaching job and gradually established a thriving business, known today as Roundhouse Designs.
Jason Rounds -- who was adopted when he was 3 days old -- liked being the son of a wooden toy maker.
"It was totally cool. My friends always wanted to come over," Jason Rounds said. "In high school, this was my job. I didn't get paid, but it was my way to help the family."
He started out gluing toy pieces together and gradually did more. He was even allowed to help design the company's biggest toy, a boat modeled after the Washington State Ferries.
Rounds was deeply honored that his father would entrust him with his life's work.
"I never realized until I got older," Rounds said. "He was training me."
Rounds, who pursued college and a career in teaching, continued to help out in his father's shop, even as an adult.
When he was working full-time as an elementary school classroom teacher, he stopped to help most days after work. He helped make toys during his summers off and sold the toys at art shows, too.
When his father died of cancer at age 57 in 2003, Rounds' heart broke.
"He was my best friend in my life," Rounds said.
Only after his father was gone did Rounds find out from his mother that his father had wanted him to continue the business.
He hadn't realized, until then, that he truly had become his father's apprentice.
Though grief-stricken, he decided to keep making his father's toys on his own.
"I wasn't willing to give it up. It would have been too painful not to be in here again," Rounds said of the workshop. "I couldn't face the possibility of not having these toys around."
Rounds, who lost his teaching job when his Camano Island elementary school cut positions last June, recently decided to turn his father's craft into a full-time career.
In his workshop, looking at the airplane, dog, duck and car toys -- original designs that date back almost to his birth -- Rounds is humbled yet proud.
"This was always my dad," he said. "It's mine now. It's a lot of pressure."
In the past eight years, however, Jason Rounds has come into his own, making toys based on his father's many designs as well as his own.
He's continued on the tradition of introducing a new train car every year for both of his father's collectible train lines for a total of 16 original cars in all.
One line, called the standard line, is small, tough and durable for kids. Another train line, called the New York line, is a more detailed and delicate collector's series for adults.
Jason Rounds' 2011 New York line car is a circus wagon made with 85 different pieces of wood, inspired by the 2006 novel "Water for Elephants." It is the 24th car in the series.
Thanks to Jason Rounds, Roundhouse Designs' standard line for kids now includes 37 collectible cars.
"One for every year I've been alive," Rounds said. "Every car is different."
Rounds still sells toys all around the country to a base of dedicated clients. And he still uses his father's Sears Craftsman tools purchased in 1977 with $500 borrowed from a great aunt.
The motors and bearings in the electric tools have all needed to be replaced.
"It would be easier to buy new ones," Rounds said, choked up. "But it's not the same."
Roundhouse Designs has the potential to become a third-generation operation.
Jason and Stacy Rounds' sons, Preston, 10, and Evan, 8, join their father in the shop and at shows, where toys influenced by their design ideas are for sale, too.
That includes Harry Potter-style magic wands made of cherry and birch, an idea Preston, who carries his grandfather's middle name, offered up.
Each handle has a core and cap, so the buyer can fill it with one of three provided tokens -- a tiny piece of amethyst, pyrite or tumbled stone, a special feature included in the wands' $10 price.
Rounds dearly misses teaching, but he's excited to explore what it means to be a full-time wooden toy maker.
As he readies toys for the holidays, he is smiling, thinking of his father's legacy and the joy he put into each toy he made.
"It was his life," Rounds said. "He always called it a lifestyle. It's not a job. It's a lifestyle.
"He did it for the love of what he was doing."
Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prices range from $4 to $330, but most toys are in the $15 to $35 range.
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