Friday, January 31, 2014

Pucks, Toys, and Growing Old

Did you know we have professional hockey in West Virginia? I made a trip to Wheeling recently to watch their minor league hockey team, the Wheeling Nailers. I saw my first game at the Wheeling Civic Center back in the ‘90s, and have made numerous return trips over the years to get a hockey fix. The team’s nickname was the winner of a contest among their fans, and is a tribute to the long history of nail manufacturers in the Wheeling area.

I think Nailers games are a fun and inexpensive form of entertainment, even if you aren’t extremely knowledgeable about the sport of hockey. Plus, the hallways of the Wheeling Civic Center serve as a sports museum for the region, with interesting photo displays of a multitude of athletes from over the years. It may surprise you how many professional athletes are from this area.

I had extra time before the game, so I explored the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum in the Elm Grove neighborhood east of downtown Wheeling, and just off I-70. This large two-story brick building had served as a school for about a hundred years. It reminded me of some of the older elementary schools in Wood County (such as the old Park School that I once attended, which was torn down in the ‘90s). Fortunately, this historic building has been nicely repurposed as a toy museum. The interior woodwork and tin ceilings are beautifully restored.

The classrooms now serve as exhibition rooms for different topics. I skipped the doll room and headed for the rooms that most interested me. There was a game room dedicated to board games over the years, such as Monopoly, Battleship, Candyland, Sorry, Trouble, Life, Mousetrap, Stratego, Risk, and even Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em, Robots. I didn’t have all these games, but I was familiar with them through cousins, neighbors, or school friends.

There was a transportation room with all types of toy cars, trucks, planes, rockets, etc. There were separate rooms dedicated to train layouts and slot car tracks (it was fun to grasp a controller and race again). Another room was for toy soldiers and other miniatures. One room was filled with an elaborate display made from K’nex blocks. There is also a nice display on the history of the Wheeling area, and one former classroom serves as a gift shop.

I must admit that it made me feel old to see many of the toys I played with treated as objects to be observed in a museum. Has it really been that long ago that the original “Hot Wheels” cars or the game “Operation” debuted? How did my childhood become a suitable topic to be curated in a museum for current (and future) generations to marvel?

Another sign of my “old age” is the number of newer toys that originated after my childhood but are also treated as historic treasures from a long ago age. For example, the Marx Toy Company (which was based in nearby Moundsville) built the famous “Big Wheel” tricycle, but I was riding bicycles by the time it came out. Cabbage Patch dolls came out after I had graduated from college.

Despite the surprise of confronting my advancing age, the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum was an interesting place to explore in Wheeling. It would be a good place to take today’s “video game” generation of youngsters to show them how we used to play. I may be biased, but I think we had it better!

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