The joy of toys: Clark Countians collect toys into adulthood

Toy companies make the full court press around Christmastime.

It’s a time for children to dream big of the toys that surpass allowances, and a time to dream of the latest and greatest, be it Care Bears, GI Joe, video games or the proverbial Red Ryder BB gun.

Eventually, Christmas becomes more practical: clothes, appliances, books.

However, for some, the joy of toys remains well into adulthood. For lifelong collectors, there can be deep memories associated with their chosen subject. Some are less focused, picking up what interests them.

The bottom line is toys aren’t just for children. Some collectors, in fact, claim it helps keep them young by inserting a little play time and a little joy in their days.

Many still pursue their passions. These are a few of their stories.

The Gamer

Shane Jannings, an insurance broker, rediscovered video games a few years ago when he found one of his old consoles in a box. Since then, he has rebuilt his collection and gotten his two sons, ages 7 and 10, interested as well. (Photo by Fred Petke)

Shane Jannings grew up in rural Missouri, far away from shopping malls and arcades.

But there was a truck stop where his parents and their relatives would meet to visit with each other. And there was a game room with console video games in it.

“My whole time was begging for dollars to play in the arcade,” he said.

He learned on the classics, including Galaga. At home, his father had an Atari system, and he eventually started with a Nintendo console with Super Mario Brothers.

There were always games, and usually something new for an upgrade. Then, everything went.

“You sell your old stuff to get the new stuff,” he said. “I became a teenager and they all got sold in a yard sale. I probably had 100-plus games.”

Not everything was gone, though.

few years ago, Jannings discovered one of his old consoles and games in a box.

“It sat in a box for years,” said Jannings, an insurance broker. “One day I found it and started playing. That turned into getting more. My boys got into it with me.”

Everything snowballed from there.

“I’d get on eBay or craigslist looking for games,” he said.

Now there’s a full run of Nintendo systems from the original to a WiiU, Sega Genesis, CD and Dreamcast plus PlayStations and an Xbox.

“It’s how I got back into it,” he said. “It’s like being a kid again.”

The home systems, though, are only one aspect.

Jannings also collects and restores arcade games for his personal arcade in his basement.

“I started six or seven years ago,” he said. “I had no idea you could collect arcade games. I got on craigslist one day and saw a game for sale in a barn. It was a game I played as a kid and I had to have it.”

It turned into a complete restoration project.

“Rats had eaten the wires, he said. “There were rats nests in it. I taught myself to work on it. It became my quiet time.”

The other half of Jannings’ basement is his workshop for repairing video games and vintage electronics.

“It’s something I’ve always been interested in,” he said. “I was interested in seeing how these worked.”

Restoring those cabinet games is not for the faint of heart or the weak of muscle. A complete game can weigh 300 to 400 pounds, and restoring one can cost a couple thousand dollars each, he said.

More than anything, it’s the memories associated with the games and sharing those with his family and friends, he said.

Jannings recreated the arcade experience in his basement, complete with black lights, 1980s music and a change machine to dispense quarters.

“I had to have that sound… of change going in,” he said.

Though he has sold a few games, Jannings said he is done.

“I’d planned to sell most of them for (an upcoming) move, but I found it really hard,” he said.

Jannings said he got some high offers for some games, but ultimately couldn’t do it.

“I realized I didn’t want to sell any more,” he said.

The car collector

WMU General Manager Mike Flynn is a lifelong car enthusiast and collector of plastic kits and other car memorabilia as well. (Photo by Fred Petke)

Mike Flynn has loved cars his entire life. His first real vehicle was a 1966 Chevrolet pickup truck, but his first cars were Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars.

“I’ve got thousands of cars,” said Flynn, the general manager of Winchester Municipal Utilities. “I have crates full of them and my dad does too.”

Flynn said his father is largely responsible for his love of cars.

“We’d portray the Clay City Dragway. Dad would take us there on Fridays and Saturdays,” he said.

Flynn, who grew up on Cabin Creek Road, would re-create the racing they saw with his friends and their cars.

“We would get our car and set on the front stoop and have drag races,” he said. “We’d swap and trade. We were real dealers in the day.”

Flynn, though, was slow to make deals.

“I was pretty tight,” he said. “If I got it, I liked it.”

Flynn still has his original cars, and it’s easy to tell which were his favorites: they show the most wear.

“We can all still be a child, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “It’s a good clean hobby and it’s relatively inexpensive. You can get them off the rack for $1.”

Flynn and his father got serious about collecting around 2000.

“Since 2000, for about five or six years, he’s got everything,” Flynn said.

The variety of die cast cars available is staggering — Hot Wheels had nearly 450 cars in 2017 alone — so focus is the key to survival.

For Flynn, Chevrolet products come first, followed by early Chevrolet Novas and then anything with a connection to a friend or a relative.

“You can pick up a lot of these and I can tell you about my uncle who had one,” he said. “I used to collect (all the) series but it’s gotten out of hand. Unless you’re a true dealer, you can’t keep up with it from my level.”

The sure way to get Flynn’s attention is to make a 1962 to 1965 Chevrolet Nova.

“If I find a Hot Wheels or Matchbox or Johnny Lightning, I’ll pick up that,” he said. “If the good Lord allows, one day I’ll have one.”

In the meantime, the small version will suffice.

Collecting small cars is a way to have practically every cool car, from Bugattis and Ferraris to Corvettes and pickup trucks, with none of the hassles of collecting real cars.

“I can’t have it in real life, but I can have ii (in scale) and spin it around,” he said.

Many collectors have one that got away, something they parted with and realized later it was a mistake.

For Flynn, it was a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro made by Hot Wheels. His was painted white.

“I traded it to someone,” he said. “I’ve looked and have never seen it.”

Back to the 1980s

Sign business owner Wes Cartwright in his office where his collections, which is centered on the late 1980s and early 1990s, are displayed prominently. Cartwright said he wanted to create a fun environment for his customers. (Photo by Fred Petke)

Wes Cartwright’s office is his man cave.

He bought a sign business, now called Cartwright Designs, five years ago and started stocking his office with taxidermy items, University of Kentucky Basketball items and examples of his work.

Behind the front wall, though, is his real collection: dozens and dozens of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He-Man action figures. All are on display, some still in the original (and autographed) packaging.

“What started all my collecting was ‘American Pickers’ and ‘Pawn Stars,’” he said. “That taught you about the value.”

Cartwright had several items of both, along with his original Nintendo system, from when he was a child.

“I remember on Easter and Christmas always asking for Ninja Turtles or a Nintendo game,” he said. “All the toys I had when I was a kid, I have now.”

There is just so much more now. Once Cartwright began collecting seriously, he spent about five years hunting figures from the Ninja Turtles’ first couple years.

“I have all of the 1988-90 figures,” he said. “When Ninja Turtles first came out, they didn’t know how popular it would be.”

Production in those first years was limited, and the items can be hard to find and expensive.

His He-Man collection materialized much the same way: adding to his existing collection.

Online buying has been a regular source, but people will stop in his office sometimes with items, he said. One person discovered a TMNT sewer play set and brought it to Cartwright. It now sits on top of a display case in the office.

Part of the fun, he said, is searching for new additions.

“There’s a certain joy … in remembering opening that toy,” he said. “You get that euphoria from the thrill of the hunt, of getting a really good deal on something. When you get it in the mail and open it, there’s euphoria.”

Cartwright said he’s collected as much as he wants and is just looking for better examples at this point.

“I’m just about complete,” he said. “I’m almost out of room.”

When the time comes, Cartwright plans on selling everything. That time, he expects, will be about 30 years down the road.

A few select pieces will go to his house, but that’s about it.

“I sold one thing and I had such seller’s remorse for it,” he said. “I made money, the money is spent and my item is gone.”

With the item went the enjoyment, he said.

“I’m able to come to work every day and enjoy what I have,” he said. “We see the value in it down the road.”

A little of everything

Paula McNabb’s collection is multi-faceted including gumball machines and cast iron toys, like the ice wagon pictured. (Photo by Fred Petke)

The upper shelves and walls of Broadway Corner Market hold a lot of odd collectibles. A Superfriends lunch box. A Life magazine featuring Dan Rowan and Dick Martin of “Laugh-In” fame on the cover. A lot of old tobacco signs. Old soft drink bottles. And a few large dolls, including Chucky of horror movie fame.

“People are fascinated with the Chucky dolls,” said Paula McNabb who owns the business with her husband, Jim. “Some kids are scared. Some want to take them home.”

In the other half of the building, McNabb keeps her other collections: cuckoo clocks, sports memorabilia, gumball machines, cast iron toys and signs, among many other things.

“I love cast iron toys, fire trucks and trains,” she said. “Anything that has wheels. I love anything that goes.”

When the McNabbs bought the store 11 years ago, they started going to auctions and buying things.

“We’ve collected a little of this and a little of that,” she said. “We started with just a couple things. Then we went to auctions. We met Larry (Lisle) and we bought from customers. We just started putting little things up.”

Lisle, who has since passed away, was the source of a lot of their items on display, she said.

“I miss him so much,” she said. “I’d say half of the stuff in my store I bought from him.”

Most of her toys, she said, are boxed up and in storage.

“The next house I get, I’ll have a toy room,” she said. “I could line the walls with all my Barbies.”

Eventually, she would like to pass everything on to her granddaughter, Dakota.

“I don’t want to sell anything,” she said. “You can’t take it with you. I’ll keep collecting until I die or I get sick of it.”