great robots & toys
from the space age

25TH Annual Puget Sound Toy Show

Review by Gord Wilson
The anniversary cake made evident what everyone knew: that twenty five years is a long time for a show to run, and that the Puget Sound Toy Show at the Northwest Washington Fair Grounds in Lynden WA was a stalwart survivor, one of the last of the roster of a half dozen Northwest toy shows. Most shows now specialize, as did this one in Farm Toys, a natural fit for a small town surrounded by rolling farmland.

At any show sellers display their wares, but this one also invites collectors to show their collections, and “Not for Sale” signs are just as common as one’s marked “Bargain” and “Rare”. Some of the most fascinating are dioramas of farms and towns, some anticipating the annual Toy Train Show held the next weekend. One of the most fascinating dioramas had plowed fields made of combed coffee grounds.

Being a robot collector, I came to walk the tables of Oliver and John Deere tractors, and get ideas from the dioramas of scale muscle cars. But I did close the sale on an Erector Set from the early ‘50s, that had seen better days and had pieces missing, but qualified both as “rare” and “bargain”. Glancing across the room, however, I saw a towering construction that looked as if someone had started playing with an Erector set and just kept building. Having secured my own set in the car trunk I ran over and met the owner, Gareth Kundert, and begged to see the contraption in action. Once he turned it on, it was the hit of the show, a magnet for wide-eyed kids and attendant adults. I snapped a few pics, and Gareth, in true collector spirit, consented to conduct a phone interview the next day about:

Gareth Kundert's Marvelous Machine        

GW: Looking at your device brings back memories of Erector and Meccano sets, because it looks like someone started building and made an outstanding model.

GK: Considering it was made it 1945, it was mostly hand made. I have a lot of admiration for the man who was able to make it. His name was “L.E. Dierks”. It’s etched on the brass where the controls sit. That’s the most history I have on the builder.

GW: “The plaque on the model says that Sauerman Bros. manufactured “Dragscrapers and Cableways”. Is that what this is?

GK: It’s a working demonstration model of a dragscraper, which was used to promote the product. The model was made in 1945, but they’ve been in business a lot longer than that.

GW: Your model towers about eight feet high, if you include the table, and spans about twenty feet. Do you think it’s to scale?

GK: Yes, but I’m not sure what scale they used. This might represent about a five yard bucket. These things were made according to the job site. If you had a small area, it would be a short tower. If you had a larger area, a taller tower. The height of the tower was determined by the length of the run.

GW: When did the model come into your possession?

GK: In 1989. I worked for Pacific American Commercial in Seattle, and my boss got it on loan from Sauerman in 1982.

Above: An Erector set from the '50s.

Above: Cover Detail.

Below: Plaque from the model base.

GW: And you’ve been taking it around to toy shows ever since?

GK: Yes. My boss was a distributor for Saurman, and he got it on loan from them to help promote the product out here, and show potential customers how it worked. In 1989, they ran out of room for it, and Saurman didn’t want it back, because their system is a bit different now. So they asked me if I wanted to start taking it around to toy shows. that’s how I got involved doing what I’m doing.

GW: Are the controls on the model similar to the real thing?

GK: Yes, they are. The levers would be approximately where they’re at on the model. It’s running on a sewing machine motor, which represents a transformer, which is what the real thing would have if it were electric. It used to be a three speed motor, and now, due to wear and tear, is down to one speed. The only thing that would be different from the model would be the brakes, because you’d be standing on a platform with the levers in front of you, and the brakes at your feet. The model is very detailed, very close to what the real thing would be.

GW: You said, “if it were electric”.

GK: Yes. I talked to a gentleman who, in 1929, helped trench a pond with what they call a donkey system They used horses on the whole back end slack line. It’s the same system that’s used in the logging industry, only instead of a tower, they call it a “spar pole”. They also used steam power before the turn of the century. When electrical power came on the scene, they used that. Plus diesel and gas engines. So there are multiple ways to power these systems.

GW: It looks like when the bucket gets up to a certain point, it automatically starts turning over to dump out the load.

GK: The line that holds the bucket back is called the slack line. The one that pulls the bucket up is called the haul line. There’s a stopblock on the slack line. It’s kind of hard to describe, but pulling the way it does causes the chains to pull on the back of the bucket and tip it over.

GW: Are systems like this still in operation?

GK: Yes. The company is still in business today. But they didn’t want the model back, because instead of a built-in system like this model, today it would have collapsible hydraulic towers, and be on tracks so it could move around. It’s much easier. Systems like this are still in use, but the company is no longer selling this type of system. But it’s still used in the Northwest, for instance, by Sterling Breen in Centralia, WA and Cadman Rock in Monroe, WA, to name a couple examples.

GW: May I ask about your own involvement? What made you want to take this model around? It seems like quite a bit of work to take around and set it all up and everything.

GK: I enjoy seeing the faces of the little kids when they see it run, and it’s also a joy to watch the faces of the big kids.

GW: It certainly generated interest this weekend. Do you find that to be true a lot of places?

GK: Yes, it generates a lot of interest because of the fact that it’s not static; it’s a working model.

GW: Looking at the rest of the show, there were quite a few toy tractors, including some ride-ons, and some very well kept farm buildings, marked “Happitime”, from the ‘50s, when Marx made all the tin toy buildings.

GK: That was my son’s display. Those buildings are all from the ‘50s. Some were sold by Sears and Montgomery Ward.

GW: That’s quite a collection. This is an interesting show, because people have set up dioramas, and aren’t just selling things.

GK: Dioramas are starting to die off, because it’s a lot of work to do them. But my family all enjoy doing these shows. We enjoy talking to the people. Sometimes you only see these friends once a year, but you really enjoy connecting with them.

GW: How did that start? When does that go back to?

GK: My sons got involved in 1986. I started getting involved in 1989, just a little at a time. It just kind of grew. The Toy Farmer, that’s been in business probably around thirty years. That magazine was an outgrowth of people who were collecting already and wanted something that connected them. The National Farm Show back in Diresville, Iowa has been going for a long time. Ertl is back in the Diresville area.

GW: Are all the toy shows you frequent farm toy type shows? Where have you taken it?

GK: Pretty much farm and construction toy shows. There was one strictly construction toy show I took it to about three or four years ago. I’ve had it to Oregon, mainly Harrisburg. I took it up to the Portland area once. In Washington state, I’ve had it over to Spokane, down to Fife and Sumner, and up to Lynden.

GW: Do you meet people who’ve used this equipment?

GK: I’ve had people who were operating these devices come and ask me how to make adjustments so they can operate more efficiently. I get a lot of women coming up and expressing interest in it, because they ran the controls for their father. Their dad didn’t have any sons, so they ended up working with their dad in the logging industry. Just listening to people’s stories is a lot of fun.

GW: There used to be more toy shows that rotated annually through the Northwest, which e-Bay and the Internet have pretty much wiped out.

GK: Yes. The Lynden show used to be a lot bigger. It’s true that e-Bay and the Internet are kind of creating a problem there. Personally, I like to touch and see what I’m buying. I like the interaction of the people I’m dealing with.

GW: I’d been to this show before, but I didn’t realize they had the dioramas on display that weren’t for sale. I really like that aspect of the show. I’d like to make a robot diorama.

GK: My grandsons and I put up a 1/64 scale diorama of a feed lot, and put cornmeal in for grain in the feed trough. There are so many different ways to do these things. I’ve been to a train show where they take styrofoam and cut it to shape, and they sculpt it with a propane torch to look like rocks. You can take green carpet and make it look like a hay field, and you take Easter grass and make it look like rows of cut hay. My daughter had her stamping and scrapbooking stuff at that show, and if you wanted to bring in your space stuff and robots, I think a lot of people would be interested in that.

GW: Do you ever sell at shows?

GK: I’m not one who  buys and sells. It’s my biggest downfall. I’m a collector, and it gets a little tight crawling around our home. There are people who look for bargains, just so they can turn around and sell it again. I don’t get a bargain just to turn around and make a buck off of it. I just enjoy the collecting. I look at it this way: a collection doesn’t do you much good if you’re the only one who looks at it. I enjoy taking my stuff out where other people can see it and enjoy it.

GW: What are your plans now?

GK: I’m fighting a very aggressive form of sarcoma, which is a form of cancer, and I’ve lost my arm to it. Thankfully, I have a lot of family help, which makes it easier. Otherwise, it would be very difficult for me to set that model up and take it down, and the same with my displays. I can do a lot of things, but I don’t do them as fast as I used to.

GW: And the sarcoma took your arm?

GK: It was amputated to keep it from spreading, but unfortunately, it was already too late.

GW: You’re certainly out there doing a lot of work.

GK: I’ve got two choices. I can enjoy life, or I can sit down and feel sorry for myself. I prefer to do things.

GW: That’s pretty much the collector spirit. The stereotype is that collectors passively accumulate things, but I find collectors taking an interest in life.

GK: Some people just accumulate. I like to think of myself as a collector. I look at it this way. By taking the model around, I’m preserving history a little bit. I’m happy people enjoy it. It makes it worthwhile taking it around.

-Copyright Gord Wilson, 2010.  

Related article: Erector Walking Robot

planet zero
Robot store