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Published: Friday, 1/19/2001

Who has the most toys? He does

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mr. Wolfe keeps his collection of Sohio memorabilia on display in a replica of an old-time gas station, which he built himself just yards from his home in Eden Township. `If you need money, don't come here. Anything else, we might have,' he jokes. Mr. Wolfe keeps his collection of Sohio memorabilia on display in a replica of an old-time gas station, which he built himself just yards from his home in Eden Township. `If you need money, don't come here. Anything else, we might have,' he jokes.
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TIFFIN - Raised during the Great Depression, Jerry Wolfe never knew what it was like to have a roomful of toys.

But he does now - and he wants to share his collection with the world.

Antique toys and collectibles occupy every nook and cranny in his Eden Township farm. And he recently lent part of his collection to the Seneca County Museum.

“I've been collecting this stuff for about 35 years,” Mr. Wolfe said. “I don't smoke and I don't drink, so this is my mad money.”

For years Mr. Wolfe, 73, has been welcoming people to visit his farm to see his toys. But he said he likes visitors to call first before showing up at his door.

His collection of rare sleds, antique ice skates, and early 20th-century toy trucks fill the buildings on his 80-acre farm. There is even a display of more than 17 Flexible Flyer sleds hanging through his house and spilling out into his garage.

But his roomy house, three-car garage, and small granary-turned-restoration workshop didn't provide the space needed to adequately display his collection. The retired railroad employee said he wanted to bring the last of his antiques out of storage.

So he had a building constructed - 32 feet by 56 feet - to house his collection. Toy wagons, restored tricycles, and classic automobiles fill the building that was completed in June.

“We've saved everything but money,” the avid collector joked. “If you need money, don't come here. Anything else, we might have.”

And that doesn't include his extensive collection of Sohio memorabilia that is displayed in a replica of an old-time gas station, a building he built himself just yards from his home. An original ceramic Sohio sign adorns a pole hanging outside the gas station, a real find, Mr. Wolfe said.

At the time he bought it, several years ago, the sign cost him about $10. He has been offered more than $1,000 for it.

Inside the red, white, and blue building, visitors have signed a guest book for seven years. Hundreds of signatures fill several books, permanently recording every person who has piled through the station doors.

On shelves, he's stored original Sohio oilcans, and along the top of the walls, he displays a collection of Ohio license plates, beginning in 1909 and continuing through to 1974. Plates from the remaining years, he confided, are in his possession but haven't been hung yet.

“Welcome to the '30s,” he said. “It took me 11 years to put this stuff together, and occasionally I'll come across something else.”

Tonia Hoffert is director of the Seneca County Museum, where Mr. Wolfe has more than 200 pieces on display. The antique toys exhibit will run through February. And, so far, it's been a hit.

But Ms. Hoffert said that part of the appeal of Mr. Wolfe's collection is not only how big it is but how many items it contains.

“He collects everything. Usually people will take an interest in one or two things but not everything,” she said. “And with it, he's got a lot to tell. That's how it is with people who collect. They become attached to their collections and usually learn all they can about it.”

And it runs in the family.

Mr. Wolfe's wife, Jean, has a collection of antique dolls that can be found in various places throughout the couple's home.

“I can't complain about his collection because I have a collection of my own,” Mrs. Wolfe said. “It's just something I enjoy.”

But how much is actually there? No one really knows. Mr. Wolfe said there are still boxes and boxes of collectibles stored throughout his farm.

And how much is it worth?

“I have no idea,” he said. “I never had it insured because the way I see it, if it all burns down, I can't replace it anyway, and if I wanted the money, I would sell them.”

Mr. Wolfe admitted that he hasn't visited flea markets and antique shows for five years. But he's still ready to finagle when he comes across a gem. But with several buildings filled to the brim, his collecting has been cut back.

But that doesn't leave the retiree with nothing to do.

Recognizing that most antiques are not found in tip-top shape, Mr. Wolfe has turned a small granary into a restoration shop, where antique toy trucks and bicycles await oil and a fresh coat of paint.

And there's plenty more to do.

“I got enough to do until I'm 200,” he said.

For more information, Jerry Wolfe can be reached at 419-927-5953.



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