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The Misfit Toymaker

Chuck Sword crafts the toys of big boys' dreams -- and chases a big dream of his own

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Wolken built model trains with his dad as a boy in Pittsburgh, then gave them away as his interests veered in other directions. When his wife died 15 years ago, Wolken jumped back into collecting, starting with construction equipment to enhance his train setups. He stopped in at DHS one day and discovered he knew Sword from years back: The two had been competitors when Sword was in the software business.

Shephard and Wolken jumped on the idea of the transportation museum and emerged as the project's leaders, along with Sword and his father. They began researching museums around the country. They joined the American Museum Association, and Shephard attended sessions on building museums in Washington, D.C. They've considered creating a preview center in downtown Cleveland to attract donors and sponsors, but decided that the estimated cost — upwards of $9 million — would be better spent on the museum itself.

Eventually, they hit upon the short-term plan of creating a mobile unit, which could visit schools and special events at a fraction of the cost of a downtown visitor center. So they began to raise money through sales of Sword's Hulett models. They hope to have it operational by 2012.

Ultimately, their vision is less about a static museum than a hands-on attraction that immerses visitors in the world of transportation — everything from bicycles to airplanes. They want to celebrate the Great Lakes region's manufacturing past as well as its present — the hundreds of companies that still make transportation-related equipment and parts here.

And their enthusiasm is infectious.

"We're going to display vintage vehicles: trucks, airplanes — anything we can get our hands on," says Shephard. "We're going to tell the story about when they were conceived, where they were built. We're going to surround those items with memorabilia from the same period. For instance, a '50s automobile will be surrounded by mannequins on roller skates delivering food to your car on a tray. It's not going to be a museum — it's going to be an experience."

"Our tagline, is 'If it wasn't made in Ohio, it probably wasn't made,'" he says, only half-jokingly.

The trio are realistic but optimistic about what they see as a $100 million project. They've only just begun contacting government officials and are putting together a presentation for local corporations they hope to involve — among them GE, Lincoln Electric, Lubrizol, and Eaton. With the resources of other institutions, they hope to provide constantly changing displays of vehicles.

"We know it's going to be a long-term thing, an uphill climb," says Sword. "But everything the nation is built on, much of it started here. We want to preserve that history and to say we're moving forward. We need to bring back the concept that we can make things here. We did it before, and we can do it again. We think we can tell a story no one else has told."

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