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by Tumbleweed Smith

Ray Robinson lives in a nice, quiet neighborhood in Corsicana. Along with the singing of birds, you sometimes hear the soft sound of a lathe in Rayís backyard. Thatís where he makes tops. He tries them out on the concrete floor of his garage.

"Iíve had tops on my mind for nearly fifty years," says Ray, "ever since I found a concrete form nail. First one I saw I thought, man, thatíd make a good top spinner. I file the point down real fine. The first top I made spun real good. Itís the simple type that old men and kids can have fun with. Theyíre real easy to spin. You donít have to know nothing to spin a top."

He had been holding a top, wrapped with twine, ready to spin, during our conversation. He drew back his arm and let fly with the top. It bounced a couple of times on the concrete floor, then straightened up and spun for nearly two minutes, emitting a whirring sound. Ray played with tops as a boy. They just cost a nickel then.

"I didnít have no telephone to punch on. All I had was tops, yo-yos, marbles and tin can shinny." I told him I wasnít familiar with that game. "You take an old tin can and a number of sticks, depending on the number of people playing, and you beat on that can and knock it around, like a golf ball. Just beat that tin can to pieces. We played way into the night."

He has given away over three thousand tops. Many of them went to members of his church, especially new members. He says he gives them to people he likes. He likes a lot of people. Businesses all over Corsicana have one of Rayís tops on a desk, table or counter somewhere in the building. He uses different types of woods to make his tops.

"Just whatever people bring me. Fellow brought me a piece of cedar the other day. And yesterday I was driving down the street on the way to my brotherís house and saw a log in a brush pile. I said ĎIím gonna get that when I come back. That looks like bois díarc.í Iíd rather cut on bois díarc than anything. Itís hard. Hard as my head. It cuts beautiful."

Ray, a retired oil field worker, makes all sizes and colors of tops.

"I started painting them at first, but a friend of mine tome me I should stop painting them and just wax them. And thatís what I do, just wax them. It brings out the colors and designs in the wood."

Heís only been making his tops five years. When someone sees one of his tops and wants to buy it, Ray will sell it. He gets $15 for a bois díarc top. He says he was lucky to find a string that works real well with the tops.

"I worked at a hardware store for awhile and found a good twine that comes in two sizes. I use the small for my little tops and a thicker twine for the big ones. Itís not nylon or polyester, none of that fancy stuff, just plain old cotton."

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