Chateau residents revive their childhood creativity with fair

Monday, June 28, 2004

At 76 Ken Moxey fashioned a scooter much like the type he created as a child from a roller skate and an apple crate. He painted it white and added mock headlights on the front. The unused half of the skate pair was shared with his neighbor and buddy, Dillman Putz, who created a toy truck.

After reminiscing about childhood one February evening, residents at Chateau Girardeau came up with the idea of holding a toy fair. Their discussion turned to toys and how in the 1920s and 1930s a combination of ingenuity and found objects produced the bulk of their toy collection, not toy stores. The evening developed into a brainstorming session which resulted in a list of about 40 toys.

About eight residents took up the project and got busy with power and hand tools and the will to create. Three men made the wooden toys while five women created kites, knitted from spools and cut paper dolls. In four months they churned out a toybox filled with about 40 toys.

Putz created his first truck at age 4 with the help of his dad. "I traveled imaginary highways hauling oil in make-shift containers made from Pet milk cans," he said.

Trucks were his favorite toy. As the youngest child growing up in Pocahontas in the early 1900s making toys was a means of amusing himself. The town's population of only 111 combined with considerably older siblings meant he was alone much of the time.

Still pushingEighty-nine years later he still pushes his creation to make it go, but the cab is made of plastic and it's a little more difficult for him to bend down.

Toys were made from pocket knives, found objects and a lot of trial and error back then. Made from a thread spool, rubber band, button and stick, the precursor to the wind-up toy often needed assistance from a bar of soap or talcum powder to make it operate smoothly.

"You can learn a lot about the laws of physics by playing with toys," Moxey said. The hoodoo stick, so called because of its seemingly magical abilities, uses several principles of physics. Vibration frequencies generated by even pressure exerted across uniformly spaced notches on a straight stick react with the main body which agitate the statically balanced and frictionless rotor at the tip into rotational movement. The biggest trick to making the rotor turn is knowing that idiosyncrasies regarding the combination of nail, drill hole size and notch depth and angle will vary from one piece of wood to another. For example, the instructions include, "When the hoodoo stick reaches the happy spot then stop carving."

Putz's "hoop stick" -- made of a 12 inch hoop and a stick to guide it -- was recreated from parts donated by Southeast Fabricating. It looks simple but it takes a little practice to get the hoop where you want it to go.

AdaptationSome toys were refashioned from memory while others relied on directions from a book. Clothespins used to make the rubberband gun's trigger were ordered via the Internet from The Amish Store to meet required specifications. Simpler toys like the tin can phone and the tomato can stilts were easily created without help from power tools or technology but some adaptations still needed to be made. Inner tubes originally used in the rubber band gun are obsolete now. Tubes changed to synthetics during the World War II effort ,so Moxey substituted rubber bands. The improvement is the gun actually shoots farther.

Margaret Kies' kite -- made of scrap wood and the funny papers -- was seen on the Chateau's grounds during a test flight. Paper dolls were cut from ideas generated in a magazine dating from 1911. Clothespin dolls came alive with clothes and physical features.

The purpose of the project was the sheer enjoyment of playing again. The idea grew into sharing creations with the public and plans for a toy fair took shape.

Photos of the toys actively engaged or staged in play will enhance the toy fair held at the Chateau's arts and crafts room from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday. Moxey wanted to ride his scooter again but after falling off Putz's stilts onto concrete and walking away with a fair-sized knot, he enlisted the help of a 9-year-old visitor, Stuart Maclean. "I wanted to get a demonstration photo of the scooter, and he was anxious to try it out," Moxey said.

Descriptions of how the toys work and materials needed to make them will also accompany the public display. Some other toys featured include the bull roarer, flipper dinger, smoke grinder and the climbing monkey. Other items displayed include wood mosaics and other woodcraft.

cpagano@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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