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Toy show brings back popular pastimes
Posted March 14, 2007

Chances are we all remember a favorite toy or two from our childhood, but what are today’s kids going to be lusting after once birthday or Christmas time rolls around? Well, a good barometer is to see what products are attracting retailers in droves at the Western Toy and Hobby Representatives Association’s annual toy and hobby show. Now the show is not open to the public, but the Campus Times has got your ticket.

Arguably the most striking aspect of the now 46-year-old show, other than the fact it takes up virtually all of the Fairplex’s Building 4, is the sheer variety of playthings being peddled by and to the various retailers, distributors and wholesalers in attendance.

Slot cars, water toys, model trains, model airplanes, stuffed animals, board games, dress-up costumes, building toys, dolls, children’s furniture, educational toys and games, arts and crafts, books and sports equipment were just some of the categories represented. And not just the little companies, either: Estes, Mattel, Lego, Playmobil, Ertl and K’nex were just some of the industry giants represented at the show.

But even though the big guys brought plenty of fun and imaginative products, including Lego’s Spongebob Squarepants collection, a digital camera-equipped radio-control airplane from Estes, and an all-digital slot car technology from Spanish firm SCX that allows six cars to race at once, it seemed like the smaller outfits brought the majority of the truly memorable products.

One such product was the fascinating line of Timberkits being shown by Brian Ledig and his wife; based in the Bay Area town of Sebastopol, they are the exclusive North American distributors for the kits. These mechanized toys, which are made from recycled rubber trees and must be assembled by the end user, are animated by a series of cranks and camshafts that are turned either by hand or by an optional motor kit. The end results are gems like a snapping crocodile, a kissing couple and a lively drummer.

“More people would have been better, but overall it’s a good show,” Ledig said of the attendance on Saturday, which was the first of the show’s four days.

Betsy Harney, president of the all volunteer and non-profit WTHRA, was also pleased with the turnout. She also pointed out that this show was the second largest in the country; only the international show in New York is larger.

But Harney said the most important thing in the toy business isn’t one-upping the competition or raking in huge profits during the holidays.

“The toy industry is all about the child,” she said. “It’s educating and stimulating the child; we’re a part of that.”

Ledig agrees that the toy industry seems to be one of the few industries that has its priorities straight.

“It’s not a very serious industry; it’s a fun industry,” he said.

Tom Anderson can be reached at