Native of Preston County scheduled to appear on American Pickers
The famous reality show duo, Mike and Frank, from American Pickers, visits the site of the now closed Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, WV. Francis Turner, toy collector and former curator of the Marx Toy Museum explains, “I just love this show and never thought I would meet Mike and Frank in person.”
Let’s start from the beginning; Francis and his three brothers, Nolan, Darwin and David, grew up in Preston County in a small area called Birds Creek, located about 8 miles from Kingwood WV. Francis said, “We grew up very poor and had very few toys to play with. We would make our own toys.” He remembers one Christmas receiving one toy – a toy missile launcher – to share with his brother Darwin. He also remembers his dad driving a garbage truck and when he came home with a load of garbage, he would search the truck for toys.
At the age of 17, Francis started working for the BBF restaurant in Morgantown, and worked his way up to assistant Manager. In 1971, Francis was transferred to Fairmont to manage the new BBF on Fairmont Avenue. Francis reminisces, “of all the places I have worked, the Fairmont BBF holds a special place in my heart, that is where I met Donna, one of my counter girls.” Shortly after they were married and moved to Wheeling, where Francis opened up a new BBF in Weirton and Donna attended Ohio Valley Nursing School. In 1979, Francis ended up giving up the restaurant line of work and became a machinist and later a salesman for Mull Industries. Francis and Donna have now celebrated their 49th anniversary, have three children, and live on a farm in Marshall County.
It was in 1988 that Francis’ passion for toys began, “It was a collecting bug, if you know what I mean. If I found it, I just had to have it, and I started collecting Marx toys.” Francis would travel anywhere to buy Marx toys, “One of my largest purchases was when I flew to Amarillo, Texas three times and drove back giant loads of toys from one person. I bought his complete collection.” Francis would also travel to toy and antique shows, “Jason, my 10 year old son, navigated me to my first toy show in Chicago in 1991, and many other shows around the country.” When Jason was unable to go, Francis would take one his other children, Crystal or Wendy Jo, “My collecting became a family thing, not just a Francis thing.”
Francis explains, “My collection kept growing and growing and I kept buying and buying and then on September 18, 1998 I took the big step and purchased a building for the future site of The Official Marx Toy Museum.”
Over the next two years the building was completely remodeled, “I did much of the work myself with new interior walls and wiring and floors and ceilings. Jason was attending WVU at that time, but he found time to help his Dad. One summer he and I steel studded, installed insulation, and dry walled the complete building.”
At last the building was ready for the display cabinets which he found in Ontario, Canada, “I bought one tractor trailer load from an antique mall that was going out of business. With the cabinets in place and additional displays that we built, we were ready for the toys!”
For the next few months, Francis worked on getting a life-size Western Town built, areas prepared for the viewing of historic films, filled the cabinets with toys and factory memorabilia, and decorated the walls with artwork and signs to create a1950’s décor. Francis explains how he felt the day before they opened, “It was around 9:00 pm and everything was ready for our first opening day. As I walked through the museum and placed the final touches on the beautiful displays, and the televisions in the 1950’s room was playing Marx commercials, and the viewing area through the museum was showing the history of Louis Marx, and the service station area was showing original factory footage from 1959. Well, I know someone was looking over my shoulder and helping me throughout this project.” Turner laughs, “Believe me, the Turners do not have a money tree in their backyard! But somehow it all came together and was perfect.”
In April 2001, The Official Marx Toy Museum opened in Moundsville, WV. The museum was located just one mile from Glen Dale – the home of the largest of all the Marx Factories which employed up to 2000 people at a time. Turner explains, “Our Mission was to be dedicated to preserving the toys, the history, and the memories of Louis Marx & Co.” The museum was of interest to many of the local people that worked at the factory and allowed the museum the opportunity to collect even more stories about the Marx factory. Francis recollects one of his favorites, “One day three sisters came in to the museum. All three of them worked at the plant and if you added up all the years they worked for Marx, it was well over 100 years. Another day a lady explained that she and a few other employees would paddle a boat across the Ohio River from Shadyside, Ohio to get to work at the Glen Dale factory.”
One of the most memorable toys from the Glen Dale factory was the Marx Big Wheel. In 1969, the factory ran three assembly lines around the clock. Each line could make 1,000 Big Wheels per shift – a total of 9,000 Big Wheels per day. To celebrate these hard working former employees, the museum hosted Former Marx Employee Days and hosted an Annual Celebration of Marx event for toy collectors from around the country. The museum had visitors from all over the world that traveled to admire the largest public display of Marx toys in the world.
One of our most famous person to visit the museum was Louis Marx Jr., the son of Louis Marx, the founder of Marx Toys. Louis Marx Jr. was 79 years old when he visited the museum in 2010, “Louis was totally amazed with all the toys on display and all the history that we knew about his father and the company. At one point, Louis said that we knew more about his family then he did.” Louis Marx Jr. and his friend, Dan Lufkin committed to making a very generous donation to the museum. Francis explains, “The money they donated helped keep us in business for several more years.” However, on June 30, 2016, the Marx toy Museum closed its door forever.
Things were relatively quiet at the museum until May 22, 2017 – the day Mike and Frank of American Pickers came picking at the Marx Toy Museum. They arrived in the American Pickers van followed by several more vehicles with a crew of cameras and supporting staff. In a small town news travels fast, “Once everyone saw the van, the local people started to gather outside the museum and in the street, requiring the police to control the crowd.” After the pick, Mike and Frank spent several hours outside the museum signing autographs, “even though the museum was now closed, it was a great event for the local community and a reminder of the history of Marx in the community.”
For the Turner family, the American Pickers visit is just another chapter in their story of Marx toys. While the Marx Toy Museum is now closed, Turner’s passion for the toys and the history is still strong, “I continue to buy and sell Marx toys, and I have a project underway which will continue to preserve the history of Marx.”
The American pickers Marx toy episode has aired over 75 times to date , with an average of over 5 MILLION viewers per viewing.