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He’s Ripon’s wooden toy car guy
Ernie's kids ASK_3265.jpg
Ripon’s Ernie Wheeler sits at a bench in his work shop holding one of countless toy cars he has made for children in the community. He surprises them with the small gift at McDonalds and at In-N-Out fast food restaurants and at the Garden Cafe. Also, in the picture is a hand gun of the Old West that he created by hand. - photo by GLEN KAHL/Manteca Bulletin

 (Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on Ernie Wheeler that will tell of his life and efforts to make life better for his family and for his fellow man.)

Revered and respected for his demonstrated work ethics and talents at Lockheed Martin Corporation in Sunnyvale for 23 years, Ripon’s Ernie Wheeler, 87, has found a new purpose:  carving toy cars for youngsters he comes across with their parents in the fast food and the other restaurants he frequents.

Without any woodworking training, Wheeler’s first project was at 12 years old when he made a desk for his mother using only a simple saw.  Wheeler said he was child number 10 out of a family of 13 sons and daughters. Also, to his credit, he has restored more than 20 Ford Mustangs that he turned around and sold to young adults at what the effort cost him – nothing more. 

Wheeler worked his way up in the aeronautics field until his retirement from Lockheed saw him move over the hill to Ripon and a new-found community he has come to call home.  Making friends quickly, he does everything in his power to bring smiles to the faces of those he is yet to know, especially children.   

He has a workshop attached to his small home that is sandwiched on his Jack Tone Road property between a front house and a rear house – both of which he has loaned out to good renters. 

Grateful parents thrilled with the small cars given to their children wrote many thank yous to Ernie’s daughter Terrie Silva on social media.  Several of those notes follow:

Laura Meester wrote, “My boys both received cars at McDonald’s from him. So awesome!”

Roberta Hitchcock followed with, “I don’t know if it was your father or another person but last summer we had a garage sale and an elderly man bought several things from us.  Right before he left he asked if I had children. Well, I do but they are grown.  He went to his vehicle and brought me back a shiny, red car he had made.  I was very touched.  I told him my grandchildren and the children they play with in my playroom would be so happy to have it.  If this is your father, he is a very special man.”

Lara Bylow Ahuna had this to say about Ernie, “Your sweet father gave my son Evan, 12, a car while we were eating and we both thought how sweet and kind he was.  So, my son asked if we could buy his breakfast.  He blessed us so we wanted to bless him.”

Kellie Short-Prime, “This is why I love to live in Ripon. What an amazing act of human-kindness.  And (similar acts) happen all the time in our town.

Anastasia Ludolph, “My children both were also blessed with one of his wooden cars.  It was around the holidays and my daughter swore he was Santa in disguise.”

Lori Souza, “He gave both of my grandkids cars as we were eating lunch at Mc Donald’s a couple of months ago.  Super sweet, it made their day and mine, too!!!!”

Carla Van Riet – De Jong, “He gave my grandson a car while we were eating at McDonald’s. Gavin and I were so surprised and thankful for the gift.  He still loves the car your dad gave him on that day.”

Ernie’s daughter Terrie offered her thanks to a family that bought her dad a meal in response to his kindness: “I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to whoever bought my father’s meal in the Garden Café last week.  My father Ernie has given away hundreds of little wooden cars he makes himself – usually at McDonald’s or the Garden Café in Ripon.  Apparently, he gave a little guy a car at the café and someone paid for his meal.  He was so touched that he has not stopped talking about it.  Thank you so much for your kindness.”

To contact Glenn Kahl, email