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A Guide to the Best of Southern California : FOR KIDS : The Big Trains That Could

November 04, 1990|LORETTA K. PARAGUASSU

ALEX FREIER doesn't use nails. The master cabinetmaker of Laguna Niguel carefully dowels and dovetails pieces of wood before they are glued and machine-screwed together. The result, his toy box trucks meticulously constructed of pine, oak and koa, are so well-built that many of the vehicles are purchased by adults--for themselves. In fact, Freier says, a Hollywood dentist had him substitute doors on the side of a truck for a top lid to convert it to a television and video cabinet. One woman had her truck cedar-lined so that she could use it as a hope chest.

But once children do get their hands on the wooden vehicles, parents can relax: The safety-spring latch on the lid has to be pushed opened and closed; it can't smash small fingers or hurt heads. Although the boxes are not airtight to begin with, Freier builds in additional peace of mind by putting two dowel-size holes on the bottom of the box.

The cargo trucks, destined to be future heirlooms, come in four sizes, from a three-foot-long version ($145) to the eight-footer ($750). If a simple truck won't do, Freier can produce dump trucks, and he has a crane on the drawing board that will feature weights to teach children the art of balancing. He also is working on a motorcycle with a sidecar--that rocks like a rocking horse.

The masterpiece of Freier's California Woodies line--a weighty, 10-foot, old-fashioned Western locomotive ($2,000)--includes a coal caboose with a compartment to stash toys in. It has a complex mechanism of working parts and wheels and seats four children. No matter that it takes three adults to lift it.

California Woodies; (714) 495-8034.

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