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Small trucks get big hobby rolling

The 1955 red pickup is Jerry Schmid's favorite. When he got it, he did all the things new car owners do. He pampered it_ washing, polishing and waxing it. Then he parked it in his bedroom.

That's the good thing about your dream car being a 1955 Tonka. It fits on the shelf next to the bed, with the steam shovels and dump trucks.

Schmid's 400-plus toy collection, though, spills out the bedroom, down the hall, down the stairs to the first floor and over the garage of Schmid's spacious St. Petersburg home.

It all started about seven years ago when Schmid and his wife, Debbie, saw a cast-iron miniature steam shovel and truck in Tampa. Schmid, a contractor based in Largo, was intrigued by the tiny construction equipment, but he thought $40 was too expensive.

The next day, Mrs. Schmid slipped back and bought the 2-inch toys. Then Schmid began adding a miniature dump truck here, a crane there.

A couple of years later, he found the bigger trucks, and it became a $300 Tonka here, a $2,000 Doepke fire engine there. These days, family vacations in places like Denver, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta or Toledo, Ohio, are planned to coincide with toy shows.

"It kind of crept up on me," Schmid said. "It's not quite an obsession, but it's a passion."

He has an early-1950s Smith-Miller Hollywood camera truck, complete with spotlight. He has Tonka's bright-orange State Hi-Way Dept. set from the mid-1950s. He has the rare 1956 AAA wrecker that Tonka issued without AAA's permission and had to pull off the market after only three months. Each model is worth hundreds of dollars, he said.

Schmid is part of a huge but unorganized national fraternity, said Chuck Inderwiesen, owner of Whiz Bang Toy Co., a Sarasota store that sells collectible toys. Hundreds of thousands of people have two or three toys that they have held onto since childhood or that they have bought somewhere because the toys hit a sentimental chord. Many of those people eventually begin adding to their collections.

"They go from people who (work on) trucks to doctors and lawyers to high school kids," Inderwiesen said. "It's usually something that evokes a good memory from the past."

Recently, a man came into Inderwiesen's north Sarasota shop and, from the shelves and shelves of cars and trucks, immediately picked out a 1934 Ford Roadster.

"He said, "That's the one I courted my wife in,' " Inderweisen said. "I had hundreds of cars in my shop, and he had eyes for none other."

The 1950s trucks are the type a young Jerry Schmid might have pushed through the sand.

But he doesn't remember doing that. "My family back then couldn't have afforded those," he said. "You had to be a little wealthy rich kid to have some of these toys when they were made."

The Tonkas were the cheapest then, at $1.95 to $3.95 a truck. Some of the larger, fancier models, like a 3-foot-long Smith-Miller pulpwood hauler with second trailer and logs, would have been about $25. "A lot of people didn't make $25 a week back then," Schmid said.

"Maybe that's why I'm reverting to my childhood."

Most of the steam shovels, cranes, dump trucks, moving vans, pickups, bulldozers, road graders and wreckers never have been played with, even by the Schmid children.

Todd, 11, and Jennifer, 8, even have expanded the collection. "I felt guilty just buying toys for me," Schmid said, so he added fire engines and dollhouse furniture.

"They've learned to appreciate them and not play with them," Schmid said.

His trucks' worth has doubled in five years, he said, and he has begun selling some of the duplicates. Selling may not be as much fun, he said, because he is fond of the collection.

Every night he first tucks in his daughter, kisses her, turns off her light, closes her door. Then he goes across the hall to peek at the neat rows of semitrailer trucks and bright orange moving vans.

"I poke my head in and flip on the light and just look," Schmid said. "And I say, "Damn, those are nice toys!' "

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