Ken Mueller enjoys collecting toy vehicles so much that he has amassed a collection large enough to be considered a mini museum.
Considering that he’s been collecting these vehicles for the past 20-25 years, and has around 4,000 to 5,000 of them, creating a mini museum is a pretty easy thing to do.
“It’s an addiction, really,” Mueller said, laughing. “But you have to have your way to save memories.”
His collecting interest originally centered on classic cars, but they take up too much space, so he turned to toy vehicles. He does have one classic car, a 1958 Ford Skyliner with a retractable roof, and a matching pedal-car version (shown at right). This was custom created from a 1958 Murray Ford Pedal car.
“We get hooked on toys of all sizes,” Mueller said.
Plus, the Skyliner pedal car fits more easily down his basement, where he has lots of room to display his collection; specifically, he has seven rooms, with each one devoted to different types of vehicles.
Mueller talks fondly and enthusiastically about his collection, which spans from the 1930s to 1980s. In addition to pedal cars, it also includes fire trucks, tin litho and diecast cars, pressed steel vehicles like Tonkas, rubber vehicles, wooden vehicles, road rollers, cement trucks, a few toy trains and pretty much everything in between. He noted that 95 percent of his vehicles are American made. Mueller neatly organizes his collection by room. The first room, the biggest, contains all American vehicles from the ‘30s to ‘60s. The second room houses fire trucks. The third room displays his “Mom says take these outside” toys including toboggans and wagons. The fourth room includes the major manufacturers like Nylint, Buddy L, Tonka and Matchbox. The fifth room contains ‘80s vehicles. The sixth room has mostly farm and road construction equipment, Fisher Price wooden toys and piggy banks.
The seventh room houses one of the non-vehicle toys in his collection that doesn’t easily fit on a shelf: An arcade bowling game made in the 1950s by the United Manufacturing Company of Chicago.
“It’s the biggest toy in my collection. It’s just one of those fun things,” Mueller said. “Whoever finished this basement did a nice job of giving me room to work with.”
The most prized vehicle in his collection is a 1924 steelcraft “sprinkler truck.” This is modeled after the life-size sprinkler trucks that had water hoses on their sides to wet down roads.
“My truck is around 90 years old in good condition and not restored,” Mueller noted.
He still enjoys adding to his collection, and his holy grail is a fire truck circa 1920s-’30s that’s two to three feet long. “That would really set things off.”
Mueller finds his little treasures at garage sales, estate sales and thrift and antiques stores in Denver, where he has lived for 60 years, and the surrounding area. He also used to do a lot of traveling for his work and picked up a number of vehicles in New Mexico, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas.
His main criteria for buying a vehicle is that it looks decent and has all it’s wheels and tires. He’s more of a stickler, though, when it comes to tin litho vehicles.
“I want original pieces, since you can’t restore the original artwork that’s on these tin litho vehicles,” he said. “A lot of these were played with in the sandbox. They were played with hard and put away wet.”
His 8-year-old grandson and 3-year-old granddaughter enjoy looking at his collection and would also love to get their hands on it. “
They would love to play with my collection, but I have one shelf of toys they can play with. I also have a set of blocks that are over 100 years old that I got from my father-in-law that they also play with,” Mueller said.
Besides toy vehicles, Mueller also collects character dolls including Howdy Doody, Lucy, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Little Lulu; what he calls his “P, B and J” collection of pins, buttons and jewelry; and, of course, transportation-related items like American Automobile Association pins and State Farm pins.
His best advice for other collectors: “Collect what you like, but try to narrow it down to metal trucks or something because it probably makes it easy in the long run.”
Mueller loves to share his collection and welcomes people to email him at email@example.com, if they would like a tour.
“You need to share it,” he said. “It can’t fit into the coffin with you.”
Mueller has no plans to stop collecting anytime soon.
“Health permitting, I will keep going. My son said, ‘Dad, as long as you’re having fun, keep collecting.”
And collecting does bring him a joy that spills out beyond his mini museum.
“When I get in my old car, I just smile. The neighbors wave and can see my joy — that’s what it’s all about.”
If you have a collection you would also like to share, drop us a line at ATNews@aimmedia.com.
Kris Manty is a content editor for Antique Trader and manages the Facebook page. Among the things she’s fond of are pulp paperbacks, vintage ads, clothing and jewelry, and everything Mid-Century Mod. She has more than 20 years of experience in the antiques and collectibles field, including editing more than 100 books on various collecting topics.