Most adults can look back on their childhood and vividly remember their favorite toys. It might have been that Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle that your dad was cool enough to let you have at age 8.
Maybe if you’re a guy, it was Rock ’Em Sock ’Em robots, He-Man figures, Transformers, GI Joe, Lincoln Logs, Lego bricks, or any number of toys that have been popular throughout the years. Ladies might remember Rainbow Bright, Barbie, My Little Pony, Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Kids. No matter the toy, our favorites hold special memories that can transport us back to happy times and more carefree days. These Ankeny men have held on to their treasures, displaying them or passing them along to their own children. But one thing’s for certain: They all agree toys are just plain old fun — even as an adult.
David Stanley has held on to a number of toys that were his as a child and that were even his dad’s when he was young. He says the favorites are metal cast toys, like an old fire truck, bulldozer, Tonka trucks and toy tractors.
Stanley’s son Lucas, 4, already plays with some of the toys, though others are a bit of a pinch hazard, so they’re put away until he gets a little bit older. He also has a wooden airplane toy his grandfather made for him when he was a kid, and it’s become his daughter’s favorite toy.
“It’s not extravagant, but I’ve kept it, and it’s one of their favorite toys,” he says. “We took it as a prop for our family photos, and when my daughter Cordelia, who will be 2 in January, saw it, she wouldn’t let go of it. So it’s in all our pictures.”
Stanley says the toys are special for their sentimental value, and he’s held on to them because they just don’t make them like they used to. It’s difficult to find similar toys now, and these will really last forever.
“They were really fun toys to play with when I was little, and I wanted to hand them down to my kids someday,” he says. “The reason I kept them is because they’re really cool, and everything is made of plastic now. You just don’t see them like this anymore, or they’re made in China and not the way that they used to be.”
If you’re a child of the ’80s, you surely remember He-Man. He’s the protagonist of the Masters of the Universe franchise. In most variations, he is the alter ego of Prince Adam. He-Man and his friends defend the realm of Eternia and the secrets of Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor. Rich Kneifel remembers He-Man, too. In fact, he boasts a set of more than 80 different action figures and other He-Man toys.
“It started when I was in first or second grade and I got into the cartoons,” he says. “I used to run home from school as fast as I could to watch it at 4 p.m. And once I got a couple of toys, they became a popular gift for me, and I started to accumulate a lot of them. I decided whenever there was a reason to give me a gift, I asked for that.”
Soon every aunt, uncle, grandma and grandpa were giving Kneifel He-Man figures. He says he also has animals and other toys that are the equivalent of the Barbie dream house from the He-Man world.
Right now, Kneifel’s daughter is only 8 months old, but he suspects she’ll be playing with them someday. When his nieces and nephews come over, they’re happy to pull his figures off the shelf and have fun.
“Right now I have all the action figures on display in my basement, which is my man cave,” he says. “They’re on a 40-foot shelf. They’re not collector’s items. I’m not concerned about keeping them nice and using them as my retirement fund. They’re toys, so they get played with a lot.”
For Kneifel, the He-Man toys are a fun link to his childhood, and he says it’s just great that they’re still relevant today. When it comes to vivid memories, he remembers his first car, his first motorcycle — and He-Man.
“They’re very bold memories,” he says. “They bring back a lot of good ones, and I love seeing my nieces and nephews play with them and get enjoyment out of them like I did. They’re timeless, too. Even though they were cool back in the ’80s, they still like to play with them. My clothes aren’t cool from the ’80s, but the action figures are.”
Lee Eberhart is a self-described nerd. A kid at heart, he jokes he never really grew up. With that mentality comes a big collection of toys from when he was a kid, including all kinds of action figures like the real Ghostbusters, X-men, Batman and other superheroes. He’s also been an avid comic book collector since age 10, and the two go hand in hand, he says.
“I’m a big dork,” he laughs. “I refuse to grow up. Even now whenever I go to the store like Target, I go to the toy aisle. I still look and check it all out. Every now and then I’ll still pick one up for myself.”
Eberhart’s son Brody, 7, sometimes brings the figures out, and the two have a grand old time playing. For Eberhart, keeping the toys in mint condition is not a concern in the least. They’re toys — they’re meant to be played with.
Eberhart still collects Batman items. In fact, each time a new superhero movie comes out, you might find him in the toy aisle at Target picking up a new action figure.
“It’ll expand and keep expanding,” he says of his collection. “I like to go to antique stores and flea markets and go raiding through the old action figures and seeing what they have. It’s a fun hobby to have. It’s a miracle I ever convinced a girl to marry me.”
Get on the train
Dave Barlow says he didn’t necessarily save all the toys from his childhood — but his mom did. And he’s grateful, because the wooden train set that she saved has become one of the favorite toys for his own two kids.
“I was probably 2 or 3 years old when I got it, so I’ve had it as long as I can remember,” he says. “My parents kept it thinking we’d have kids, and as soon as we did, it came to our house. Right now my son Mason is telling me we need to play trains. He plays with them every day. There’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t play with them. And he puts his new toys on the old tracks and plays with them that way, too.”
They’ve even kept Dave’s dad’s old GI Joe figures. Right now they’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s house here in town so Mason, 4, can play with them when he goes over to visit.
Barlow says he has no plans to ever part with these old pieces — as if his mom would let him anyway.
“We will absolutely hold on to them for when our kids have kids,” he says. “They’re in perfect condition, and they’ve stood the test of time.”