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  Written by
  Sharla A. Stewart

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The collecting mania



Collective efforts
Toy scouts

Page 24 of the 1938-39 catalog from the German toy-train manufacturer Märklin-with its dramatic illustrations of the "O" gauge Pacific locomotive-may be all but lost to history, but for 16 years it provided ample terrain for the boyhood fantasies of Michael A. Cann, AB'49, AM'53. When Cann's family emigrated to the U.S. during the waning days of the Weimar Republic, his toy trains (and dreams of that Märklin Pacific) became the seeds of a hobby that has endured for 70 years.

PHOTO:  Michael Cann has trains from the U.S., Europe, and Russia.

Member No. 201 of the 30,000-strong U.S. Train Collectors Association, Cann acquired the locomotive of his dreams in 1957-well, almost. He spent years rehabilitating the engine, which had arrived in his mailbox at graduate school hobbled by rust, "white metal disease," and the general disrepair from repeated tossings into a toy chest. It is the most cherished of the 250 locomotives and 2,500 cars that line floor-to-ceiling shelves in his home. Cann says the trains interest him not only because of "my positive childhood associations," but also because they illustrate an applied history: "in the way different manufacturers have gone about converting the image of the real train into an attractive and workable toy."

While Cann lays tracks, Jim North, AM'67, depletes tubes of Testor's plastic airplane glue for his assembly (literally) of 205 WWII combat aircraft in 1/72 scale. Among the models he's seeking are a Curtiss-Wright C-46, the American cargo plane that flew the "Hump" in India-Burma, and a Nakajima G8N, a Japanese four-engine heavy bomber. The plane that launched his lifetime hobby was one North built during his high-school years: a Douglas Dauntless, the U.S. Navy dive-bomber credited with winning the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

PHOTO:  Several of John Beam's mechanical banks come from the collection of Walter P. Chrysler, founder of the automobile manufacturer.

The grinding gears of yesteryear and tiny working parts also enchant John D. Beam, MBA'72, who has collected cast-iron mechanical banks since age 7, when his father gave him a bank from his own boyhood. Place a penny in the right hand of the Tammany bank (ca. 1870), and the cast-iron fat man deposits the coin in his coat pocket, nodding his thanks. Beam has 30 banks in all-several of them from the estate of fellow collector Walter P. Chrysler-and has started his 10-year-old son John on a collection with recent models from Hammacher Schlemmer. But no latter-day model can compare to the antiques, says Beam. "The old ones from the late 1800s work just as if they're brand new."

  OCTOBER 2001

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