By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. —
As a child, Bob Lenhart’s favorite toy was a used Lionel train set his dad bought for him. Without a lot of money to go around, Lenhart recalled, “I would make villages out of cardboard, and color them … We used our imagination back then.”
The nostalgia and delight of those old childhood toys and fascinating trains can be yours next weekend, as a Vintage Toy and Train Show comes to Alexandria for the first time. The event takes place Saturday, Oct. 5, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. inside the 4-H Building in Beulah Park during Alexandria’s Small Town USA Festival.
Alexandria resident and vintage toy aficionado Lenhart has been instrumental in bringing the show to Alexandria, which is being organized by David Moree of Kokomo. Visitors to the event can expect to see the building filled with the offerings of vintage toy and train vendors, as well as a working train display. It’s a familiar venue to Lenhart, although this will be the first time for a show on his home turf.
“I collect toys as a hobby,” said Lenhart. It all started about 25 years ago, when Lenhart and his wife, Marilyn, stopped in Berea, Ky., and poked their noses into some antique shops.
“I saw this little tin plane,” said Lenhart. That’s all it took to get Lenhart’s hobby started. The little plane, which Lenhart still owns, was a brightly colored Sea Patrol on pontoons, manufactured by Ohio Art in the 1950s. The toy likely resonated for Lenhart because of his own childhood experience with airplanes.
At a mere 8 months of age, Lenhart had his first airplane ride. It was probably a Piper Cub his father was flying that day, Dec. 7, 1941 — the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Lenhart’s dad started out as a plumber in Kansas. After handling a plumbing job at the local airport, he sold the family car and went to flying school. His wife earned her pilot’s license, too. They flew in shows, took people for rides and ran a flying school in Kansas. Eventually, they moved to Marion, Ind., where the senior Lenhart served as general manager of the airport until World War II uprooted the family. During the war, Lenhart’s dad served as a flight instructor for the Martin B-26 bomber.
So when Lenhart spotted that little toy plane decades later, it spoke to him of his own childhood.
“I think there’s a strong connection between people and toys. It brings back fond memories,” said Lenhart.
After Lenhart picked up that first vintage toy, one thing led to another.
“I didn’t know there were toy collectors. I didn’t know there were toy shows,” said Lenhart. He quickly learned. Now, vintage toys of all kinds grace his Colonial Revival house in Alexandria, where they look perfectly at home. Lenhart also participates in shows himself.
Lenhart’s extensive collection includes tin wind-up toys, train sets and pieces, cast-iron toys, toy soldiers and accessories, Auburn Rubber cars and trucks, and more.
“The oldest one I have dates back to the 1800s,” said Lenhart. That item would be a small cast-iron toy with movable parts that features a circus ringmaster and a girl on horseback. It is operated by putting a rope on a flywheel, and pulling.
Another one of Lenhart’s fun toys is his G-man tommy gun made of tin with a wooden stock. He remembers his dad brought him such a toy when he was child.
For all of the fun stuff in his collection, and all in surprisingly nice condition, Lenhart, a true collector, admits, “My favorite toy is the one I’m going to find tomorrow.”
Lenhart is hopeful that Madison County residents will come to Beulah Park next weekend to get in on all the fun. He said the trains especially attract a lot of families, or grandparents bringing their grandkids. He loves to see eyes light up when people spot a once-loved toy, and say, “I played with that.”
“I just enjoy it. I think the general public would enjoy coming,” said Lenhart. “I hope we can expect a ton of people to show up.”
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