Toytopia: A museum of play

Game, toy stories make colorful displays in exhibit at Clark County Fair

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter



If you go

What: Clark County Fair.

Hours Saturday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Admission: Adults, $10; seniors 62 and older, $8; kids 7-12, $7; kids 6 and younger, free; military personnel in uniform, free; parking, $6; C-Tran shuttle, $2 per person round trip from area Park & Ride lots; children 6 and younger ride free. $1 discount on admission with a bus fare stub.

Carnival: Opens at noon.

Highlights: 99.5 The Wolf Grandstands: Tuff Trucks, 2 and 7 p.m. Other: Westfield Vancouver Mall Kids Stage: Toddler Trot Contest, 11:30 a.m., registration at 11 a.m.

Pets: Not permitted, except for personal service animals or those on exhibition or in competition.

Information: or 360-397-6180.

Vancouver dad Don Luthardt pointed at G.I. Joe toys displayed behind glass.

"That was the first toy I bought for myself with my own money," Luthardt, 48, told his 15-year-old son, Josh. "It had the Kung-Fu Grip, so it could hold the guns better."

These are the kinds of nostalgic exchanges inspired by Toytopia, showcased for the first time at this year's Clark County Fair.

The work of Stage Nine Exhibit Design, of Sacramento, Calif., debuted at the 2007 California State Fair and Exposition. It explores the origins of various toys, who made them, and why they endure.

When Hasbro launched the 12-inch-tall G.I. Joe in 1964, the company reassured boys that the toy wasn't a doll, but an action figure. The articulated joints enabled kids to move Joe into battle poses.

Luthardt's G.I. Joe, which he recalls buying for perhaps $5, is long gone.

"My mom gave it away and my cousins trashed it," he said.

Even if he still had the toy, it's likely it wouldn't be worth much to collectors unless it was in tip-top shape. The exhibit explains the ratings toy collectors use, which range from C-1 (trashed) to C-10 (mint condition, still in the box).

Many of Toytopia's displays, like the G.I. Joe figures, are behind glass.

A placard with an assortment of figurines from the original "Star Wars" explains that Mego Corp. passed on the chance to make the toys, figuring that it would go bankrupt if it licensed every "flash in the pan" sci-fi B movie.

A display about Mattel's Barbie traces her origins to the sexy German Bild Lilli dolls, which were geared to bachelors, not children.

Other parts of the exhibit invite interaction.

Savannah Montoya, 18, visiting from Arizona, followed her 2-year-old cousin through a life-size dollhouse filled with smaller KidKraft dollhouses.

Toni Brighton of Washougal and her 6-year-old grandson, Riley Hogan, worked the knobs on the world's largest Etch-a-Sketch.

Kids flocked to the Retro Arcade to play Donkey Kong Jr., Pole Position II and other games of the 1980s and 1990s.

When touring Toytopia, parents, be prepared to pull out your wallets.

Playing the arcade games or getting your fortune told by Zoltar costs money. And at the center of the exhibit lies a store with novelty candy and toys, where your kids will surely beg for a Ring Pop or a collector's edition Slinky Dog.

Better yet, have your kids bring their wallets, so they'll have a good story like Luthardt's to tell their own children one day.