Work ethic hasn't wavered for Berg

11/5/2012

G.C. man stays busy in his workshop, making wooden toys for relief organization.

G.C. man stays busy in his workshop, making wooden toys for relief organization.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Ed Berg greets the visitor to his garage shop with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

Gesturing at his workshop, filled with 50 years worth of stuff, he tilts his white hard hat back and says, "I'm always bumping my head. That's why I wear a hat."

Berg, 87, of Garden City, recently completed making by hand more than 1,265 small wooden car toys that will eventually be sent to children around the world as part of a shoe box ministry called "Operation Christmas Child," sponsored by Rev. Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse international relief organization.

Berg, an avid woodworker for more than 50 years, learned about the program about three years ago through an affiliate organization called, "Toys for God's Kids." That organization provided the toy patterns, an ink stamp and a wood-burning tool.

All of Berg's toys soon will be taken to Dodge City, a collection point for all the shoe boxes from western Kansas. From there, boxes and toys are trucked to Denver to the Operation Christmas Child process center, where each shoe box is inspected.

Each box contains supplies like a tooth brush and toothpaste, pencils and paper, soap and a shirt. One of Berg's cars will be included where space allows. The boxes then are sent to poor children all over the world. Linda Berg, Ed's wife of 50 years, said that when children receive boxes, they also are told the message of Jesus Christ.

Berg said he's thankful to God to have the strength to make so many toys for a good cause. He made 400 toys the first year, 600 the second, and 1,265 this time around.

"If you keep at a job, you can accumulate quite a bit of stuff," he said. "It's a fun job. I don't have much else to do. I get to be creative."

Berg said he gets some wood for free from a business that makes trusses, but he sometimes has to "beg" for wood from places like cabinet shops or others that have wood lying around that they don't need anymore.

The Bergs, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary over the summer, moved to Garden City in an old pickup and car nearly 40 years ago. They have two grown children, Mark Berg of Wichita and Kay Mack of Denver, and several grandchildren.

Berg has been an avid woodworker for nearly as long as he's been married.

"He would build all kinds of stuff for the children when they were little," Linda Berg said. "Tree houses. Playhouses. Merry-go-rounds. He's built stuff ever since we were married."

As for the toy cars, Berg estimates he could build one, start to finish, in about 45 minutes. But that's not the way to build more than 1,200 of them. Harkening back to a past job working on a General Motors assembly line, Berg said he makes each part for the toys — body, axle, wheels — in batches of around 100.

"That's really the biggest job, making all them wheels," he said.

Between January and the end of June, Berg had reached the 1,200 mark.

"I was only going to make a hundred a month, but it was going so good, so I just kept on going. I feel if the Lord gives me strength, I'll try to do 2,000," he said.

A native of North Dakota, Berg grew up in hard times. He was one of 10 children raised during the Great Depression. His father was originally a farmer, but lost everything and worked as a blacksmith and as a cook for rail workers to bring in enough income to feed his family.

"They starved a lot," Linda Berg said. "Terribly hungry. Sometimes they just wouldn't have enough to eat."

Berg's father died when Berg was 9. He began working, doing odd jobs for people, at the age of 11. 

One of those jobs was gathering cow chips, a good source of fuel due to the scarcity of trees on the northern plains.

"I'd put those cow chips in a burlap bag and haul them on this little wagon. I'd bring some home and stack 'em up, like sandwiches," he said. "Boy, they were quick to burn. I always compare them to the microwaves we have now. You put a bunch of chips in the stove, and the coffee pot starts bouncing around right away."

When he got older, Berg traveled to California to seek better work opportunities.

"I got there on a Sunday night, and on Monday morning I had a job," he said.

Berg worked at a General Motors plant for 17 years, building and assembling cars and car parts. But he said the smog was so bad at that time that it always looked like a person was crying, and his nose would run constantly.¬ After moving to Garden City, Berg worked in maintenance at Garden Valley retirement and continued to do odd jobs.

While making toys for the Operation Christmas Child program, Berg's thoughts can't help but turn to his own past Christmases.¬ His father died on Christmas Eve, but neighbors brought a Christmas tree to the family.

Berg and his siblings did receive gifts, and though they usually came from the Salvation Army, they were made of cast iron and were much more durable than today's mass produced plastic.

"And we played with them for the longest time," he said.

Berg's father also brought home gifts when he could.

"Dad would come home from work, and once in a while he'd bring us kids a treat. He'd buy one box of Cracker Jacks. We'd rotate on who'd get the prize, and they were pretty nice back then," he said.

In fact, Berg still has one of those tiny prizes, a green cast iron tractor not much taller than a quarter stood on end.

Growing up where and when he did caused Berg to develop a strong work ethic. He still does odd jobs and fixes things for people, even at 87. He usually can be found in his shop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days, with several coffee breaks thrown in. 

And at about 6 each morning, Berg walks about a mile round trip to have coffee at McDonald's. Barring an illness, he doesn't expect to stop working.

"It's hard to be idle," he said.

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