Mint Condition

By Michael J. Legeros


                    "He's never been out of the box!"
                                       - Toy Story 2


Two words, the most highly prized of any toy collector:  "Mint condi-
tion."  Means "like new."  No dents.  No dings.  No chips nor smudges
nor scratches.  Nor faded colors, nor failing materials.  For discrimi-
nating collectors such as myself, a die-cast fire truck aficionado of
many years, mint condition is the *only* condition.  Well, and maybe
*near* mint.  I've neither (intentionally) bought nor been *interested*
in buying toys that look "played with."  Same for those with missing
parts, manufacturer defects, or that are just plain "broke."  Thank-
fully, most models arrive as desired.  Oh, the occasional truck is dam-
aged during shipping.  Others appear okay until they're opened, reveal-
ing a defect from the factory.  Such as a poorly molded plastic window,
as happened the other month.  Or a mis-aligned cab and chassis, as is
unfortunately not uncommon with certain Corgi Classics.  (Regarding the
former, the manufacturer sent another, plus postage-paid return label
for the first; the latter was resolved in ten minutes with a screw-
driver.)

Thus for these highly scrutinized reasons, I rarely buy "sight unseen."
Like, duh.  But with practically *none* of the world's most-desirable
die-cast toys available in retail-challenged Raleigh--  vintage *or*
new-- the comprehensive collector can't *help* but turn to mail order.
Or, worse, Internet auctions, where the Pig in a Poke Factor (PIAPF) is
considerably higher.  See, unlike  browsing the Matchbox racks at Tar-
get, where the clear-plastic blister cards can be both examined at
length *and* compared against any duplicates, mail-order and Internet
sellers typically provide photographs.  At best, they'll post a couple
that they shot themselves; at worse, they'll reprint a picture of a
pre-production model (meaning mock-up) from the factory catalog.

Better dealers add  descriptions, noting the lettering, the accesso-
ries, or even the colors, if the photo is in black and white.  Of
course, *no* dealer provides the detail *I'd* like-- an extensive, ex-
haustive summary of *all* imperfections, top to bottom, inside, out-
side, and even upside down.  No, they usually simply state "mint" or
"mint with box" or even "mint with mint box."  (Personally, I've never
cared about the box or even if it has one.)  And sellers are *usually*
accurate in their assessments.  Usually.  But what happens if the
*seller's* definition of "mint" is different from the *buyer's*?  Well,
if you're like me, even though you're not, but if you were, you find
yourself buying the same and nearly exact die-cast fire truck *eight*
consecutive times:


   #1 - Firefighter from New York, if I recall, selling entire
        collection online.  Fall '98.  Pay $60 or $70, relying
        on poorly scanned but promising photo.  And seller's
        description of "pretty good."  Actual condition is
        closer to "ugly," with sagging decals and slight (read:
        noticeable to Mike) deterioration of the rubber wheels.
        Resell on ebay for $80.

   #2 - Internet auction.  $80 or thereabouts.  Mint as de
        scribed; mint as arrives. Gorgeous, 'cept for newer-
        style and considerably less-realistic plastic wheels.
        Place in display cabinet alongside others in living
        room-turned-toy museum.  Make mental note to replace
        with one with rubber wheels someday.  Winter '99.

   #3 - Internet auction.  Spring '00.  $40, maybe.  Fuzzy pho-
        to; can't tell condition.  Seller doesn't describe, ei
        ther.  Purchase price includes two other fire trucks.
        And this one has the coveted rubber wheels.  What the
        heck, I take a shot.  Arrives "fair," at best.  Not
        surprised.  Resell at local toy show for $25 or $30.

   #4 - Internet auction.  Still spring.  $90 or maybe a full
        hundred.  Mint condition.  Rubber wheels.  Looks im
        maculate in photo.  Alas, arrives crushed, courtesy
        (a.) poor packaging and (b.) unidentified vehicle ap
        parently rolling over said package.  Seller cheerfully
        offers refund.  I curse.

   #5 - Internet auction at German-language site.  Friend helps
        translate.  Rubber wheels again.  Model described as
        "excellent."  $80, drafted as bank check and sent over
        seas.  Still spring.  Model arrives two months later,
        somewhere around "fair."  Heart sinks.  Try to resell
        at flea market at Emergency Services Expo in Baltimore;
        succeed on ebay, selling for $50 to person with sen
        timental attachment to toy.

   #6 - Internet merchant asking twice the going rate.  $165.
        Summer '00.  Mint in box, he assures.  Rubber wheels a-
        gain.  Bite the bullet right before leaving for cross-
        country trip.  Credit card charged at once.  Month lat-
        er, no model.  Nor contact from dealer.  Place charge
        in dispute.  Notify seller of same.  Seller informs
        that model hasn't been shipped.  Cancel transaction.
        Charge soon reversed.

   #7 - Internet auction and another German seller.  No trans-
        lation required this time.  $65.  Model arrives faster,
        too, thanks to discovery of international money order-
        sending service.  Fall '00.  Alas, both seller's photo
        and description are exaggerated.  The rubber-wheeled
        model is again only "fair."

   #8 - Internet auction.  Seller is reputable firm from Eng
        land that specializes in reselling toys.  Winter '01.
        Win with last-minute bid.  $103, including shipping.
        Credit card charged in UK pounds instead of US dollars.
        Friendly message (from me) results in immediate correc-
        tion (from them).  Model arrives as described.  Better,
        even, than imagined.  Perfect.  Perfect mint.  Perfect
        mint with chocolate-chips on top.  Now can relax and
        begin business of selling models #2 and #7...


What is the model, you ask?  And why is it so important??  First ques-
tion first.  "Flugfeldloschfahrzeug," a 1:55 scale, German-made (by
Siku), die-cast metal replica of an eight-whell, Metz/Faun airport
crash truck.  It measures 2 inches high (to top of cab), 2 inches wide,
and 7 1/2 inches long, and weighs a good pound.  (Siku "cars," notably
the older ones, are famous for their heavy, metal construction.)  Mov-
ing parts include an articulating roof turret and a ball-jointed bumper
nozzle.  Four filling caps open on top and  there's a hinged compart-
ment hiding a hose reel on each side-- a reel that spins, slides out on
a tray, and even tilt downward, for easy access by miniature fire peo-
ple!  The model's colored a darker red, with white cab and trim, and
pair of blue emergency beacons up top.  At least, that's the picture in
*words*.  Photo of said stunner:




(The *real* "Flugfeldloschfahrzeug" is a monster measuring 10 feet
high, again to top of cab, 10 feet wide, and 38 feet long.  It weighs
52 tons-- or 106,000 pounds!-- when fully loaded, carries 4,755 gallons
of water and 530 gallons of foam, is equipped with a 1,000 hp Daimler-
Benz diesel engine, and can accelerate from 0 to 49 mph in a mere 45
seconds. The eight-wheel, all-wheel apparatus was developed in the late
Sixties, as a joint project of Frankfort Rhein-Main Airport, the Faun
truck company, and Metz Fire Equipment.  It was designed specifically
for jumbo jet-sized aircraft and the hazards associated during take-off
and landing. Such as a 747, which, at that time, carried up to 490 pas-
sengers and 47,551 gallons of fuel.)

Why *this* particular toy, then?  Well, I wish I could say it's one I
once owned.  Or one that I *wanted* to own, like a Corgi Major Batmo-
bile, circa 1970..  (Mint condition, of course...)  Nor is it even an
investment that I hope to someday sell for ten or twenty times its pur-
chase price.  No, no, and nope.  Heck, I didn't even *know* this Siku
crash truck *existed* until eighteen months ago!  As has become common
when using the 'net as a tool to find toys, I've discovered both brand-
new (to me) manufacturers and, as happened here, one of their must-have
models.  This particular fire engine was first spotted in a *picture*
of a picture, among twenty others on the cover of a Siku collectors
guide.  I blinked, gasped, and began sending e-mail.  A *flurry* of e-
mail, first to the site hosting the picture, and subsequently to anyone
and everyone owning, selling, or merely *main-taining* whatever Web
pages resulted from a search on "Siku," "airport," "crash," and
"truck."

But... but... *why*?  For my final answer, please step inside the
house.  First wipe your feet, then follow me through the kitchen, where
three-dozen (or so) fire trucks are on display.  (Varying scales, from
pocket-sized to an enormous, Franklin Mint Snorkel that fills an aquar-
ium that's being used as a display case.)  Past the living room, where
a couple hundred others reside, and into the spare bedroom.  On the
bookshelf above the drum kit is a tattered, half-sized hardcover:
"Fire Engines in Colour."  (Arthur Ingram, Denis Bis-hop, MacMillian
Publishing, London, 1973.)  The wee, well-read tome tells the history
of fire apparatus from fifteen countries around the world, with lots of
wonderfully dense text  and maybe a hundred accompanying color plates.
And right there, spread across pages 108 and 109, is the Illustration
That Mike Never Forgot:  a giant, gray/blue, Lufthansa 747 landing be-
hind a big, bright, red-over-white Metz/Faun "Flugfeldloschfahrzeug."
Need I say more?

"Fire Engines in Colour" was one of several "fire books" I enjoyed as a
youth.  May not have been the first, but was certainly one of the most
cherished by that geeky, half-Greek kid from Minnetonka, MN, suburb of
Minneapolis.  And 'twas the same kid who, as a grade-schooler, is re-
membered as preferring to sit inside, reading about "tran'portation,"
than to play outside with others.  And 'twas the same kid whose most
nagging request of his parents-- other than the near-constant refusal
to eat fruits, vegetables, or anything containing whole chunks of ei-
ther-- was that all-too-frequent request to stop at one more fire sta-
tion.  (Or, later, his *favorite* fire station, the one with the big-
gest trucks of *all* at Wold Chamberlain Field, AKA Minneapolis-St.
Paul International Airport, AKA the airport used in the *movie* "Air-
port," and the opening music to which, by composer Alfred Newman's, ri-
vals even "Star Wars" as the Most Thrilling Title Credits Accompaniment
Ever.)

During those early, exceptionally formative years, Santa brought the
boy such detailed, die-cast delights as an American LaFrance aerial
ladder by Corgi.  (Tractor-drawn and complete with miniature ground
ladders, working outriggers, and a winch-controlled, three-section ex-
tending aerial!)  Birthdays saw similar rolling rewards, 'cept for one
horrible year when I received... sports equipment.  And even the Easter
Bunny got into the act, often leaving a "car" in the basket...  Family
vacations to Florida found him hoofing to nearby fire stations, both in
Pompano Beach and, one year in Fort Lauderdale, hiking all the way from
Bahia Mar to Port Everglades, to glimpse the giant industrial trucks
that bore names like "Puff" and "Snuff"...  He'd use pedal power, too.
On Saturdays, he'd ride out to the Glen Lake fire station and site for
hours outside the unoccupied building, waiting for the volunteers to
get an alarm.  (They rarely did.)

(The most amusing of these anecdotes is probably a tie between "Poul-
li's Fire Alarm" and "The Boy Who Loved  'Emergency'!"  The former, a
tale *still* told at family gatherings, stars Mikey and his little sis-
ter and the time he coaxed her into pulling the fire alarm at a retire-
ment center *and* even helped her reach the lever!  We were visiting
"Papoulli" in Golden Valley, at a "home" around the corner from a fire
station.  I guess I really wanted to see those trucks that day...  The
other story is about "Emergency!" and the energy devoted to a little
boy's favorite TV show.  Reruns were broadcast in the afternoon and
not only was I tube-glued to those after-school episodes, but I also
kept a handwritten log of each call that the fictional characters were
dispatched on!)

Maybe it's time travel, I guess, that ultimately compelled this thirty
five-year old child to spend month after month searching for, sending
payments for, and even *collecting* money for the same, damn, die-cast
airport fire truck, eight, count 'em eight, not seven, not nine, but
*eight* times in a row.  Call it an "emotional continuum," if you will,
stretching from the earliest joy of a boy and his books to the present-
day delight of a "grown up"; a so-called "adult" who, lo these many
years later, still derives an indescribably simple pleasure from seeing
a fire engine  Real or replica.  Riding on or reading about.  Racing to
a fire scene or rolling across the kitchen floor.  Just as long as it's
shiny.  You know, mint.



References
==========

In alphabetical order, the complete list of a certain someone's most-
treasured fire books.  Thanks, Mom, for finding 'em all those years
ago...

   o "American Fire Engines Since 1900," Walter P. McCall,
      Crestline Publishing, Glen Ellyn, IL, 1976

   o "Fire!," Steven Scher (with introduction by Jimmy Breslin),
      Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1978

   o "Fire! The Story of the Fire Engine," Simon Goodenough,
      Chartwell, Secaucus, NJ, 1978

   o "Fire and Crash Vehicles From 1950," Olyslager Auto Li-
      brary, Frederick Warne, London, 1979

   o "Fire Engines and Firefighting," David Burgess-Wise, Octo-
      pus Books, London, 1977

   o "Fire Engines, Fire Fighters: The Men, Equipment, and Ma
      chines, from Colonial Days to the Present," Paul C. Ditzel,
      Crown Publishers, New York, 1976

   o "Fire Engines in Colour," Arthur Ingram and Denis Bishop
      (illustrations), Blanford Press, London, 1973

   o "Great American Fire Engines," J. Mallet, Crescent Books,
      New York, 1979

   o "Great Fires of America," Michael P. Dineen (editor), Coun-
      try Beautiful, Waukesha, WI, 1973

   o "Space Age Firefighters: New Weapons in the Fireman's Arse-
      nal," C.B. Colby, Coward-McCann, New York, 1973



Afterword
=========

While researching reference material for this essay, I consulted "Fire
and Crash Vehicles From 1950" and noted the listing of *another* Olys-
lager Auto book: "Fire-Fighting Vehicles 1840-1950."  This brought back
the memory of a Twin-Cities bookstore, maybe B. Baltons at Southdale,
where Yours Truly remembers a similar-style book of *military* appara-
tus, many from World War II.  Could they be one and the same?  Just
last week, in fact, I tried a Barnes and Noble search on "military" and
"apparatus."  This time, between edits, I tried "Olyslager."  First on
ebay, then the Web.  No dice, at least locating anyone with the title
in *stock*.  (The book is long out-of-print.)  Thought for a moment,
then tried Yahoo with "used," "book," and "dealers." Again no dice, at
least locating dealers with extensive online catalogs.  Though for an-
other moment, then re-tried Yahoo with "online," "book," and "dealers."
Success!   And after a couple more clicks, I was using bookfinder.com
to search several dozen different dealers!  Entered exact title and
discovered not one, not two, but *six* different copies scattered about
North American!  Within five more minutes I'd ordered an "excellent"
copy from a merchant in Minnesota, in Marine on St Croix.  (With an
added greeting from a "former native.")  Then got to thinking.  What
*other* out-of-print fire books might be available?  And, in turn,
might qualify as Mike Legeros must-haves??  The search begins anew!

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros

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