ATHOL - Even with the farthest stretch of his imagination, David Oakes never could have envisioned he would be making cribbage boards for a living.
Or that he would be doing it from a home workshop in the woods near Athol - seemingly a world away from his native England.
Together with his wife, Marty, Oakes has found a niche with handcrafted cribbage boards, selling more than 2,200 boards to customers worldwide in the four years since launching his business, "The Cribbage Guy."
He has made hundreds of boards for the U.S. Submarine Fleet - 60 for the U.S.S. Missouri alone. The card game is known as an "official" pastime for submariners.
"There are no batteries required," he said. "It's competitive, but it's also a bit of luck. It's a silent game and it lasts just long enough - about 15 minutes. It's not like RISK, which takes 6 months to play."
His boards are being used by troops in Afghanistan, SEAL Team 5 and cribbage enthusiasts worldwide, from Mongolia to New Zealand.
"If anybody said I would be staying in the woods of Idaho, making cribbage boards, that would be surprising," he said. "We're very blessed to be here. It's just a beautiful part of the world to be in."
Love led Oakes overseas and he became a U.S. citizen in 2001. He and Marty lived in Michigan for 10 years before moving to Idaho with their son.
They always enjoyed playing cribbage together - a game Oakes learned as a child in England and Marty picked up in college.
Their business was born from what Oakes describes as an "interesting experiment." Using spare plywood, angle iron, threaded rod and bearings from rollerskates, Oakes created machinery in his home shop that would have cost thousands of dollars off the shelf.
"I was trying to find something worthwhile to do with it," he said. He made boxes, wooden spoons, purses and cribbage boards, among other things, that the couple sold at craft fairs and farmers markets.
"It was the cribbage boards people kept buying," he said. They quit the fairs and markets and opened "The Cribbage Guy," using their website - www.cribbageguy.com - to reach customers worldwide.
Oakes' custom machinery allows him to create custom boards in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes with precisely drilled holes. In his shop Tuesday, Oakes began work on a board that was being sent to Pennsylvania for a gift.
He's in the process of making a large board with easy-to-see holes and large pegs for a customer who has no thumbs. Several boards customized with names and dates for a wedding party are ready to ship.
The boards have proven popular gifts for fifth wedding anniversaries, a year traditionally celebrated with wooden gifts.
Among the strangest requests Oakes has received is an order for a folding, whale-shaped cribbage board.
Only 3 to 4 percent of Oakes' sales are to customers in Idaho.
"There are some states that play more than others," he said. "Idaho is not one of them."
The game is most popular in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Washington, he said.
Traditionally, the game is popular with seniors, but Oakes said it appears a younger set is taking interest in the game, which has been around since the 17th century.
"Since games appeared on iPhone (applications), a lot of kids are catching on," he said.
Having a home-based business gives the couple a lot of flexibility and time to volunteer in their son's classroom. They taught his third-grade class how to play cribbage this past school year.
"We play on occasion," Oakes said. "Not as much as we probably should, but we're surrounded by them all day."