Note: This feature is in the Oct. TT&C 2015 issue.
Jimmie Dobson holds a Tonka ladder truck from 1953.
This is a model of a 1938 Seagrave sedan pumper that Jimmie Dobson donated to the Detroit Fire Department to be used as a hearse for fallen firefighters. They spent $200,000 restoring the pumper and it is now being used, by request, for any firefighter killed in the line of duty in Michigan or Ontario.
The Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum also includes a large display of moving trucks and vans.
Jimmie Dobson’s first collector’s passion was for fire trucks – the old, full-size versions. His son, Jeff, loved toys, particularly NASCAR. To say Jimmie caught his son’s enthusiasm for toys would be an understatement. Jimmie admits he got carried away. After 50 years of collecting, his third museum has 25,000 square feet with 16-foot walls packed floor-to-ceiling with more than 12,000 toys in all scales, as well as 60 real fire trucks.
“It’s Bay City’s (Michigan) best-kept secret,” says Steve Schrumpf, board secretary for The Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum, a 501(c) nonprofit organization.
“I’m getting to the age, where I want it to be here forever, so I turned it into a foundation. I want it to be part of the community,” says Jimmie, 86. After starting the foundation in 2000, he made his private collection public in a new museum a few years later. Collections inside continue to expand as other collectors seek a home to preserve their treasures.
In addition to the toy cars and trucks of all models, there are doll collections, including a recent Betty Boop collection. The vastness and diversity of toys attracts people from all over the United States and the world.
On fire for fire trucks
When Dobson returned from military service in Korea, he was an assistant fire chief in Bangor Township in Michigan.
“I got the yearning for a fire truck and started to collect them,” Jimmie says. “I got carried away, and by 1970 I had 140 of them.”
Since then, he has sold many of them, but his collection includes an 1824 hand pumper, steam pumpers, horse-drawn pumpers from the 1800s and motorized trucks as old as a 1916 Republic, believed to be the oldest operating truck in the world.
Toy collectors may be familiar with the Retro 1-2-3 Covington Fox model fire truck. It was based on the Covington Engine No. 5 fire truck that was once in Jimmie’s collection. He has since sold the truck, but Jimmie has the large-scale model and all of the models Retro 1-2-3 has made.
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