On display for students were four long tables of many famous erector sets. The antique toys, owned by Jasper resident Tom Lindsey and Calhoun resident Randy Sauder date back to 1913. Lindsey and Sauder are members of the A. C. Gilbert Heritage Society (ACGHS), a national organization of about 450 Gilbert toy collectors from across the country.
The collection included a rare 1931 Hudson train locomotive and tender, a 1932 White Truck and a 1929 Zeppelin. The oldest set, which included a picture of its first 13 year-old owner, was a 99 year-old 1913 #8 Mysto set made a few months after the Gilbert company first started making erector sets.
The centerpiece toy display was a large working one of a kind Machine Shop model built by Sauder. It included numerous working tools and over 1000 continues moving parts all running off one motor. Sauder says the project took about 800 hours to build over a two-year period. Last year another model built by Sauder won “Best Model Award” and “Best Model Maker” at the National A. C. Gilbert Heritage Society Convention in Chicago. The amazing model can be seen running on YouTube by searching for “Incredible Gilbert Display.”
Throughout the day, both Sauder and Lindsey were on hand to tell over 300 participating students about Gilbert history and how the toys were made. For a half century prior to 1960, the Gilbert Company, based out of New Haven, Connecticut was one of America’s greatest toy companies.
The Gilbert Company was known for always putting an emphasis on educational toys,” said Lindsey. By far, their most popular endeavor was the famous red metal box erector sets. Between 1913 and 1959 over 30 million sets were produced and sold. The sets generally included a small electric motor and were a collection 100’s of nuts, bolts, gears, girders and other parts. Children could build virtually anything they could imagine.
In a time before computers, the Internet and video games it was hands on toys like erector sets that grabbed the attention of boys and girls. Many of today’s engineers credit their first learning experience to when they were children playing with erector sets. And its not just children that play with them. Because of their versatility, many real life projects such as various rides at Disney World were first modeled using erector sets. According to event organizer, Sonoraville Assistant Principal Michael Evelti, the event was well received by all that participated. “This was a fascinating opportunity to let students see what kids did for fun in the last century. Not only were the toys fun, they were educational as well,” said Evelti. That was a popular sentiment echoed by many Sonoraville staff members who also stopped in to see the presentation. “This was just amazing,” said teacher Teresa Smith. She added, “Our students were able to see first hand how earlier generations of students learned to make things from an early age.
The exhibit by Lindsey and Sauder was part of the build up leading to the centennial anniversary of the A. C. Gilbert toy company. Next year will mark 100 years since the company first made erector sets at its New Haven, Connecticut factory.
According to Sauder, anyone can still go on Ebay and elsewhere to find the old erector sets for sale. “They still make a great Christmas or birthday gift,” he said. Sauder serves as Director of the South East Region of ACGHS, a post previously held by Lindsey. Anyone interested in learning more about erector toys or seeing pictures and video of working models can go online to www.acghs.org.