Toy soldiers inspired by real soldiers who are serving
War is no game, but one Orange man uses play things to commemorate and honor those who have served.
William Moore has been making lead toy soldiers for years, but stopped for awhile. Now he has recently started making his lead warriors again in honoring veterans.
“By now, 72 years later after World War II ended, several wars have come and gone. Some still persist such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The uniforms of the American military have changed color but the objective is still the same- freedom at any price,” Moore said.
He added it takes just an ounce or two of lead to make a lead toy soldier, but a real person whom the toy represents takes a family and country of values to make a military man or woman.
“The boot camp personnel who build a civilian into a military fighting machine really begins at home. I know, because I spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, serving our country and representing my family.
“I give one or more figures to my friends who are veterans of the WWII era. Their eyes don’t light up like they did when we were children, but I can hear their hearts say, ‘Thank you, friend. I needed this.’ And my heart responds with you’re welcome with a big debt of gratitude to you friend, my hero,” Moore said.
One of his greatest pastimes was to visit the dime store in Leesville, La. from 4 to 12 years of age.
His favorite counters was the one displaying the toy soldiers. The store had farm animals and cowboys and Indian toys in that section, too and he would visit that section as long as he could.
“Everything in the 1940s was in short supply due to World War II. Money for such things as toys was out of the question. Money was scarce and we just didn’t have money for such ‘foolishness’ as toys, even though they were dirt cheap. The little toy soldiers were only ten cents,” he said.
Now they cost from $8 to $16 as antiques.
Back then, most of the metal toys were made of pewter, which was lighter and better casts could be made with less clean-up effort at the factory of the overcast from mold forging, Moore explained.
One of his closest uncles received two lead soldier molds for Christmas a year later and Moore got his start then.
His uncle was a self-made craftsman and he loved to experiment with the element of danger. Toy lead soldiers made at home was dangerous to say the least. Especially in the creating process.
“First, the lead had to be melted at a temperature of 620 degrees. No water was to enter into the process at all,” Moore said. “A miniature explosion or splatter would occur. Safety gloves and glasses were required during the entire process.”
Moore would stay back at first and watch his uncle pour dozens of newly-made hot toy soldiers. One mold had three WWII figures and the other mold contained three WWI replicas. Each one was in detail right down to the pill boxes, or ammunition boxes, the machine gunner was sitting upon.
Moore admired the molds so much, his uncle gave them to him once he was grown. He was pouring his own toy lead soldiers by the time he turned 14.
He even carried the tradition into adulthood while serving in the Navy and shared the process with his two older sons.
My sons loved the idea as much as I did when I was their age. The molds stayed in our family for many years until I received orders to move.
Unfortunately, one of the house movers stole both the molds while the Moores were moving.
Years later, Moore still longs for those lead soldier molds and he sought to find them at garage sales and estate sales.
Moore, however, got back into the toy lead soldier hobby crafting after attending an estate sale in Groves in 2012.
“I saw a single antique toy solder of the WWII vintage. The price was $16 for a single figure. Eight dollars would be my top price. I decided to come back the next day when the price would be reduced to half price. When I arrived early the next day, the antique figure had already been sold. Disgust, disappointment and a general feeling of failure set in,” Moore said.
Fortunately for Moore, he found two molds a week later like the ones he had in his youth along with a small electric kiln at an estate sale in Orange for $5.
“I couldn’t wait to start making lead toy soldiers again. By now, my age is 74 and I’ve learned a lot about chemistry, safety and even the art of home crafted lead toy soldiers. The first figures toppled out of the hot molds. A work of art creation and satisfaction. The feeling of satisfaction peaked into hundreds of tiny new characters,” he said.
Moore believes there’s nothing like being a child at heart, especially at age 74.
“My life as a child was filled with simple events at the time, but when I reflect back on each event made life worth living,” he said.
William Moore, 74, of Orange, holds one of the lead toy soldiers he makes in honor of those who have served or those who are serving the country. Photos/ David Ball