Text and photos by Brad Hundt
Actor and Pittsburgh-area native Michael Keaton once observed that some of his fondest memories centered around his old toys.
If the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum in Wheeling, W.Va., is any indication, Keaton is hardly the only one who feels this way.
Housed within a former Victorian school building constructed in 1906, the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum is an Alladin’s cave for anyone wishing to explore how kids have played over the last century or so, and how the toys they used evolved in that time.
And if you’re at or a little beyond a certain age, you’re bound to experience a happy burst of nostalgia wandering through the museum, whether it’s seeing the cover of a Battleship board game from the early 1970s, a Jackie Gleason collectible figure or an HO gauge train orbiting around a track.
“We want to have adults feel like kids again,” says James Schulte, curator of the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum.
The museum was launched in 1998, at first to house the voluminous collection of a Wheeling-area father and son, both of whom are named Allen Miller. The younger Miller told the Associated Press in 2006 that “our stock in trade is in people’s memories. People tend to forget their day-to-day troubles here.”
Over the last two decades, the museum’s holdings have continued to grow, fueled in part by donations from visitors. Many of the things that come into the museum are, admittedly, pretty common, according to Schulte, but they nonetheless find a use for them. Some items are restored and others are donated to other organizations.
“We keep almost everything that comes in,” he says.
The oldest toy in the museum? A wind-up metal German contraption that has a man driving a car while blowing a horn. It was made somewhere between 1893 and 1910. Miller told the AP, “That is one of those items that we will never part with. I don’t know what it’s worth and I don’t care.”
The museum is divided into rooms that deal with certain types of toys, from dolls to board games and cars. Other rooms house model train layouts, which include models of such Wheeling landmarks as Coleman’s Fish Market. Along with being a repository for toys manufactured here, there and everywhere, the museum shines a spotlight on toys made by Louis Marx and Company. The makers of the Big Wheel tricycle and Rock ‘em Sock ‘em robots, Louis Marx and Company operated a manufacturing plant in nearby Glen Dale, W.Va., along with plants in Erie and Girard in Pennsylvania. The plant in Glen Dale shuttered in 1980, when the Marx brand collapsed following its sale eight years before to the Quaker Oats Company.
On June 14-15, the museum is hosting an annual show and sale of Marx toys. Eighty vendors are expected to be there, selling Johnny West figures, playsets, dollhouses and more. Speakers offering insight into Marx toys are also due to be on hand.
Open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the first five months of the year, the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum switches to a seven-day schedule on Memorial Day and remains on it through the end of December. Its daily hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Group tours can be scheduled by appointment. It is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
It is located at 144 Kruger Street in Wheeling, W.Va. For information call 304-242-8133 or visit toyandtrain.com.