In the summer of 1974 my brother Dan and I started making wooden toys in the basement of our parents’ home in South Burlington, Vermont. We were in between semesters at college at the University of Vermont and looking for a way to make a little money over the summer. My father had a collection of woodworking machinery in the basement of our home. Dan and I were familiar with these tools having helped build the house.
By the end of my first year in college, I was ready to try something completely new. Using the considerable amount of scrap wood we had generated while working on the house, Dan and I designed a little bulldozer and cement truck. Next Dan came up with a train engine, followed by a log car and caboose. We sold the first ones to people we knew and the occasional gift shop. But we needed a market to sustain us.
Timbertoys dominated my life, though working with my hands was satisfying and offered me a chance to follow my muse — designing and selling the toys. At some point I hit on the idea of peddling them on Church Street in Burlington. Starting on Cherry Street on a frosty overcast Saturday in December of 1974, I boldly parked my pickup truck alongside Woolworth’s Department Store. I placed a dozen wooden toys prominently on a pile of logs in the bed of my pickup and waited for customers. To my amazement, within minutes, I sold a wooden train; an engine, a log car, and a caboose. I noticed the foot traffic was much heavier several hundred feet away, directly on Church Street. Now I was curious what would happen. I moved to a parking spot on Church Street in front of Hagar Hardware and again set up the toys. Within half an hour I sold just about everything I had. Then a police officer approached the truck and asked to see my peddler’s license.
“I can get a license to peddle my toys?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes, just go to the city clerk’s office on Monday and apply.”
“Any idea how much it costs?” I asked.
“Twenty or so at most,” he said.
I was at the city clerk’s office that Monday and asked for a license. A skeptical city clerk with a bowtie told me the licensing committee would have to review it and that would take a week or two. The Christmas season was underway and I asked if I could get it sooner. Someone in the office said I should apply directly to the city council that was meeting that night. What luck, I thought.I went to the city council meeting that night and bypassed the licensing committee. I correctly figured the Aldermanic License Committee was made-up of members partial to the desires of the merchants. At the point in the meeting when the chairman asked if there was any other business, I raised my hand and asked for the license to peddle my wares. When the chairman asked me what kind of wares, I approached the large meeting table and rolled several of the toys toward them.
To be continued...