The ability to work with wood was an asset on rural farms where lifestyles required self-sufficiency and living off the land was common. As a boy, Tom carved his toys - small boats that he floated down creeks on his family farm in Lexington, South Carolina. At nine-years-old, Tom began learning the woodworking trade from Olin Ballentine, a master woodworker. Olin crafted furniture, boats, animal traps, tools, and just about "anything made of wood." Tom credits Olin's instruction as essential to his status as one of the top decoy makers in the United States.