A toy for all ages

If unaffiliated with the world of collectors, the amount of miniature models of trucks, trains, cars and tractors on display at the Vegas Hotel this weekend for the ITT Toy Show can be overwhelming.

The show continues today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Passionate collectors roam through the aisles of the show, which takes up two conference rooms at the hotel and has an entry fee of $3, and ask all kinds of questions about stock numbers, authenticity and even more when discussing rare or custom-made pieces.

“I pretty much stick with (John) Deere because I can’t collect it all,” Peter Thorp, one of two men running the show, said in an interview. “So, I’m pretty much just with Deere in my private collection, but I buy and sell anything. I’m starting to like the custom stuff and more of the unique, expensive things.”

Thorp said that the show has been put on for 10 years now, but this year is a bit different because the show is dedicated in memory of Robert Morrison, who died in a head-on collision in Minot last summer.

“We ran a lot of shows together, he was a good friend of ours. This year we dedicated this show to him, his memory. He used to set up right over here,” Thorp said as he motions toward the center of the room.

In many ways, the world of the miniature model collector is a small one. The vendors seem to know each other well.

“I know about a half dozen of them,” Bob Johnson, a model truck vendor from West Fargo, said of his fellow vendors in Minot. “I host the show out in West Fargo, North Dakota, which is three weeks from today and tomorrow. I know all of those people, which is probably 30 different vendors.”

Johnson has been collecting for about 11 years, and his interest all came from one truck, because it was unique.

“About 12, 13 years ago I seen that truck and it’s the very first one in the series of First Gears’ 1/25th scale truck,” he said while pointing it out on his display. “And that one was made approximately ’96 or ’97 and was the very first 1/25th scale truck that they did.”

He said he averages about seven or eight toy shows a year, although this year is slightly less because his wife is sick so he’s been staying closer to home. His West Fargo show, though, will begin in three weeks.

And being on the road can take its toll financially.

“Last week it was disastrous because I went to Mankato and got stuck in the storm and so I probably sold as much as I spent, so it wasn’t a good deal,” he said, adding that at this show he’s going to try to stay behind his booth as much as possible.

Golden Melland, who was operating a model train display that was very popular with children, said that while collecting can seem very expensive it’s all a matter of priorities when it comes to money.

When friends ask him how he can pay upwards of $500 on a locomotive and some cars to follow it he just replies that while they may go out drinking every night, he saves that money so he can put it into the train.

Melland did politely have to remind a little girl not to touch the train sets throughout the interview and that shows that while they are called “toys,” the miniatures are serious business.

“You don’t want anyone touching them with their fingers because there’s oil on your fingers,” said Johnson. “Most of the time the box is worth as much as the truck is. If the box is perfect, it’s worth big money.”

The origins of people’s collecting are all different.

Melland remembers first collecting trains when he was about 9. Likewise, Thorp also first collected as a child.

“I started getting stuff way back in the ’60s. Then, when I was in high school things set aside and then I started working for a John Deere dealership in ’87 and I got the bug again,” Thorp said. “Started collecting and getting back into the groove of things so I got serious again in 1987.”

Others, the bug happens upon them much later.

“We farm in north central Montana, we’re farmers, and we bought Big Bud 747 in 1997 and, of course, that particular tractor is in Guiness Book of World Records as the largest tractor ever built,” said Robert Williams, of Big Sandy, Mont. “We’ve farmed with that for several years. The tractor was built … right near where we live and growing up we watched Big Bud the company develop. It started in ’69 and actually shut down in ’91, but my brother and I bought the tractor.”

But then, something he hadn’t expected happened. People started coming by the hundreds from across the nation and the world to see his record breaking tractor, for which he now owns the trademark name.

“Eventually we started selling some toys and hats and toys. That’s how we got started on the toy thing,” he said.

And his booth was a very busy one.

“Everybody should come out, we have a variety of stuff to see. It’s well worth the trip out here even if you’re not much into toys,” Thorp said at the end of his interview. “It’s a different venue to come and look and see what’s there. I’ve talked to some people who say they’ve never been to one of these and they’re just amazed.”