Athens Review, Athens, Texas

April 30, 2012

The Toymakers speak out

The Fullingum family makes the best of hard times through their business

Sharon Humpries
Special to the Revie

Athens —

Paula and Jim Fullingum are toymakers. They have taken what started out to be a family hobby, and turned it into a business to help them survive the tough economic times everyone is having to deal with in one way or another. 

Jim said his dad started making wooden toys just for something to do, and he started helping his dad make the toys as a hobby about 25 years ago. 

Then they started taking the toys to flea markets.  Now, Paula and Jim own and operate East Texas Crafters, a business that hand-makes wooden pop guns, bows and arrows, swords and shields and several other items, as well as doing screen printing on just about any surface.

The couple lives and works in Shady Oakes.  They have a large metal building behind their house with their supplies and equipment in it. 

Paula is a native Texan, born and raised in the East Texas area, and Jim is from New Mexico.  They married when Paula was 16 years-old, and have discovered the secret of making it last.  The couple works and lives together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and still seems to be excited about what they are doing, and their working together.

With a grin, Jim said he has discovered the secret of a long and happy marriage.

“I do what she tells me to, and every morning I start the day with ‘I’m sorry and I apologize,’” he said.

Paula good-naturedly agreed that it worked, but added that they actually enjoy working together. They have lived and worked in East Texas all their lives, except for a brief stay in Colorado. 

Jim commented, “It was just too cold up there.  When the snow melted, we packed up and moved home.”

They live in their house, right in front of their shop with their two grown sons, neither of whom is married, and whose jobs keep them traveling a great deal. 

Jim said he’s hoping they are getting a good start, before they start a family, and won’t have to struggle like he and Paula have.  However, that struggle seems to have worked for them.

Jim owns a roofing business, and occasionally is working on buildings, but that market has slowed down considerably in the present economy. 

They were already making toys as a hobby, so they just started taking them to craft shows, and trying to sell them. 

Paula said, “We make about 25 craft shows a year, with January and August being our slow months.” 

Now, they make a craft show almost every weekend and sell toys in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Toy-making is still a family business.  They each have their own jobs in what they do.  Jim cuts out the toys, and puts them together, but Paula does the designs that go on the toys, or whatever surface, such as a shirt, a hat or a sign. 

Jim’s brother has helped with some of the toy designs, and Jim takes a plank of rough cedar, which is bought locally, and out of it cuts out the toy, puts it together. Then it  is completed with Paula putting on it whatever finish or design is appropriate.  

Paula said, “We are self-taught.  If there is something we need to do, we just figure out how to do it.”

They agreed that the current economic situation is tough, but Jim said, “If they are willing to work, people can find something to do.”   

The Fullingum’s workshop looks like what Santa’s workshop must look like, with raw wood and stacks, and bins of toys in various stages of construction, and neatly stacked, and bound finished products in one area. 

Maybe they are Santa’s real helpers.