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The Joy Of Toys

While families are loading up on the latest electronics, noise-making dolls and newfangled gadgets this holiday season, Eagle Point resident Bob Russell will stick with his cast-iron banks, Minnie and Mickey rail car and old-fashioned dolls, thank you very much.

Owner of the historic Butte Creek Mill, Russell has been collecting old toys for more than three decades.

As Santa's annual visit draws near, he can't help but feel that families of today's push-button generation are missing out on what Christmas meant to children a few generations ago.

Reflecting on his own holidays, Russell says simple toys meant the most, and were built to last. He's so fond of old toys, in fact, that he boasts thousands of pieces in his own personal collection.

The 57-year-old says he began collecting unusual and antique toys from around the world 35 years ago. Even as a small child, however, he felt drawn to old toys.

"I probably really started when I was about 9 years old," says Russell.

"I remember finding a Woodrow Wilson for President campaign button and decided, right then and there, I wanted a campaign button for each president, so I went out on a search. And in doing so, I ran across a lot of other old stuff."

Russell spent his childhood crawling under old houses, perusing thrift stores and searching dusty old attics, "always on a treasure hunt."

About 30 years ago, with a box of cast iron banks, wind-up toys and figurines, things really took off. To his collection he added classic trikes, scooters and sleds, dolls from the late 1880s and old games.

Housed in his 1911 home, across from the historic mill and his own antique shop, Russell's collection serves as home décor, spanning shelves, covering floors and accenting walls.

His personal favorites include a Buddy L fire truck, a 1909 Carrette Limousine he discovered in an old wooden truck, and a Minnie & Mickey railcar produced by the Lionel Train company which many attribute to helping the then-small company endure the Great Depression.

While some collectors focus on the value of antique toys, Russell says his focus is on the fun of it all.

"Everybody saves stuff that's old and thinks they're worth a fortune, but it's usually not. For example, the character toys like Orphan Annie and Charlie Chaplin have gone down in value because there's not as much demand," he says.

"The important thing is to collect what you like. Collect something you enjoy, maybe that you remember as a kid."

Russell's own favorite toy as a child?

"It was always my Tonka garbage truck, which I guess was because I was always going to be a garbage man, in hopes, of course, I'd find more old stuff."

With Christmas just days away, Russell smiles to think of the holidays past during which many of the toys in his collection brought smiles and memories to children around the world.

"I think about a lot of these toys and kids waking up to Christmas morning 100 or so years ago and getting these toys," he says.

"It's just kind of neat to think about."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

A replica of a 1920s dairy cart is just one of the thousands of toys collected by Bob Russell of Eagle Point. - Jim Craven