The Francis Turner Story

Welcome to the Marx Toy Connection!  This website is about my personal Marx Toy Connection – the connection that I had with Marx Toys throughout the years. I would guess if you are looking at this web site, you also have a Marx Toy Connection.  Your connection probably started when you were very young – maybe you received a Marx playset, a Johnny West action figure, a Marx Big Wheel, or one of the other iconic toys made by Louis Marx & Co.

My story didn’t begin until I was older
In 1974, I landed a job that brought us to Glen Dale, West Virginia – home of the largest Marx Toy factory in the world.  My wife Donna and I rented an apartment just 4 blocks from the factory.   Donna was in her last year of nursing school and she would commute 12 miles north to Wheeling, and I would go about 2 miles to my new job as manager of the newly opened McDonalds in Moundsville.  In 1976, we bought a 35 acre farm just a few miles away – that was our 5th move since we were married in 1972. The farm was owned by a really nice older man and woman who told us they had moved to the farm in 1951.  At the time, I said to my wife, “who would live in the same place for twenty-five years?” – and now we have lived on the farm for 45 years!

My first Marx Toy!
When we bought the farm we bought almost everything – tools, tractors, hay, cows, and everything else you needed to run the farm.  You could say that  Jay and Betty just packed their suitcases and moved to town.  Within a very short time the neighbor boys came over hoping to get a job mowing the grass, putting in hay, getting our newspaper, or any other odd job.  One day the neighbor boys, Roger and Greg, were working on the farm and found three Marx Big Wheels hidden deep in the back of the barn.  We took the Big Wheels out to the end of our lane to the “ridge road” which was about a 150 yard downhill slope to a straight stretch of another 200 yards.  Just try to imagine a 27 year old man with his legs over the handle bars speeding down a blacktop road at 35 miles per hour.  I will never forget that first Big Wheel ride! – and my first Marx Toy!

A New Trade
In 1979, I went to the hospital to see my wife, who just had our first child, Jason Michael Turner. I told her that I had just quit my job at McDonalds and that I was getting out of the restaurant business. Within a few months I was in a machinist program at a local machine shop.  After 3 years, I received my machinist papers and was promoted to foreman.  I worked at the company for over 30 years – ending my career as a salesman for the company.

A Passion
My grandfather June Titchenell made his living going door-to-door selling stuff.  He started out with horse and buggy and ended up with a panel truck.  My family claims that I have the  “wheeling and dealing” in my blood!

In 1982, when Marx had their auction, I was there ready to buy something to make a buck on.  I wanted something that I could buy and resell, but I was not looking for toys because at that time I had no interest in toys.  I ended up buying this repair shop room.  The room was filled with metal cabinets full of parts , tables with vises, tools, and more.  I paid $550.  To my surprise, the auctioneer said that the two rooms above the shop room that I bought went with it. There were two lofted rooms up a set of stairs.  The first room had sheet metal fabrications hanging down from the ceiling and to this day I have no idea what they were, but the second room was full of TOYS!  One toy was a Big Wheel with an extended front end.  Also there were several boxes that were around 32 inches square that had plastic figures that were still on the runner. I ended up selling these items at the local flea market; I had no interest in them.

Then in 1988, my friend Walter Doran gave me the phone number from a newspaper ad – a guy from Massachusetts who was advertising in our local newspaper to buy Marx Toys.  I called him.  Little did I know that this call was the beginning of a passion for Marx Toys.

For the next 3-4 months, I would advertise for toys locally and sell them to George in Massachusetts for a little profit.  That is, until two things happened.  First, I started to really like the toys and the history of Marx.  I started to build a collection of items that I didn’t want to sell.  And second, I found out about PFPC magazine – Plastic Figures and Playset Collector – as magazine to learn about, buying, and selling toys which connected the network on Marx enthusiasts.

Inspiring a Dream
In 1992, the Stifel Art Center in Wheeling, WV contacted me about doing a Christmas Display of Marx Toys for the holidays – the newspaper headlines read, “Toys of Christmas Past!”  We decided to have a special night for the Marx Employees which lead to another headline, “Reunion Sparks Memories of Toy Making Days!” The show was very successful throughout the Christmas season and the special night for the Marx employees was fantastic!  I loved hearing the stories of the Marx employees and the “inside” management of the company.

Displaying my collection and talking with Marx employees was my inspiration for thinking about starting a Marx Toy Museum.  From this point forward, my decision to buy or sell a toy was based on if I would need it for the museum.  Initially, I did not tell my friends or my family about my dream about starting a Marx Museum – it was just a dream in my head. As time went on, months then years,  my collection kept growing and so did my desire to start the Marx Toy Museum.  On occasion, I would hint about a museum to my family, but they just thought I was blowing smoke, but I think my son Jason knew better.

A Dream Meets Reality
In September 1998, I took the giant step of purchasing a building for the future home of the “Official Marx Toy Museum.”  The reason I call it a “giant step” is because the Turners do not have a money tree growing in their back yard!!  It was a big commitment and for each step, we had to come up with the money to pay for it.

For the next two years, we completely remodeled the building from top to bottom.  We upgraded the roof, replaced two furnaces and air conditioner units, and rewired the entire building with the help of a friend.  My son Jason bought a book at Lowe’s on drywalling and he spent his summer break from college putting up steel studding, installing insulation, and drywall throughout the building.  We added a new drop ceiling, checkered floor tile, two new bathrooms, and painted the building, inside and out.  I located cabinets in Ontario Canada at a decent price and we bought one large tractor trailer load – that was 60 cabinets.  My neighbor Roger and Sherry helped out big time by building several other cabinets and pictures frames for the museum.

After two years of hard work we were ready to start the fun part of the project!  With the help of Jason and his girlfriend Tiffany we started loading up the display cabinets. Our goal was to have a big variety of toys.  We wanted every visitor to see a toy they had as a child – so we included displays from every genre of toy throughout 60 years of toy history.  The Marx Museum displayed over 125 Marx playsets, metal vehicles, action figures, windups, dolls, trains, and more – all in a 1950’s décor!

Marx Museum Opening Day!
I will never forget the evening before we opened in April 2001, Jason and I meet at the museum just to make sure we were ready for tomorrow. The 1950’s room was stocked with drinks, snacks, and gifts for the visitors; the TV in the 1950’s room was playing the Marx 1960’s commercials, the main museum area was playing the Marx History movie, the Service station area was playing the AFL-CIO Tour of the Glen Dale factory movie, and the prototype room was playing a movie about Marx toy designer, Floyd Joe Chamberlain, that my daughter designed as a college project.

I can not find the words to tell you what I was feeling – everything was perfect!  I just remember walking through the museum, overwhelmed with emotion with all the beautiful Marx displays while listening to the movies about the “Toy King, Louis Marx!”  I had been working on this dream for nine years, and tomorrow, it would become a reality – The Official Marx Toy Museum!