April 9, 2009 in City

The toy’s out of the box

By The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photo

Mark Lehan is a landscaper by trade and toy collector the rest of the time. He estimates he has more than 20,000 items, most in a storage unit in Rathdrum.
(Full-size photo)

Mark Lehan says he’s channeling his inner child.

Boy, howdy.

By his own estimate, Lehan has 20,000 toys that he’s spent years collecting from secondhand stores, antique shops and toy bins across the region.

“I’m probably the oldest kid in the world,” said Lehan, of Rathdrum.

There’s Bart Simpson on a skateboard, the Incredible Hulk, Shrek, Goofy, the “Got Milk” cow with wings, Rescue Heroes, trolls, plastic fish and rubber ducks galore. That’s just the start.

“You don’t see the ‘Got Milk’ cow every day,” Lehan said.

Nor do you often see a yellow Oscar Mayer Wienermobile whistle.

Lehan, 58, might tell you he’s nuts – for the record, he runs his own landscape business – but in his case, it appears that collecting makes him very happy.

“You start collecting and it takes on a life of its own,” he said. “You find one, you get another … Yeah, it got a little bit out of hand.”

The passion isn’t confined to toys. He has several vintage automobiles, including three types of Volkswagen and a 1977 Porsche.

He can’t tell you how much his toys are worth, or how much he’s spent. He doesn’t care. He can’t even identify many of them.

If he likes it, he buys it. The criteria are simple enough: “They have to have a look. They have to have a feel to them. They have to appear in motion,” he said.

“I don’t sell anything. I collect.”

He thrives in a throw-away society: People buy lots of toys for kids, and when the kids get tired of them, the toys get thrown out. This creates a big secondhand supply.

For years, he’s housed the collection inside a rented storage facility in Rathdrum and has lately been feeling like the toys have been lonesome, he said.

“People don’t think toys have feelings. I think they do,” he said.

Lehan said he would like to share his collection with the community, and he’s been looking for a business or an organization that would work with him to put them on display so that kids, both young and old, can see them. He is currently moving the collection to a new location.

A native of California, Lehan moved to North Idaho in 1979 and has three children. He said his obsession started more than a decade ago when he ran an office in an old filling station building in Spirit Lake.

Friends and others would stop by to visit, and their children would play with his collection of replica automobile toys.

He really didn’t want the kids touching his collectibles, so he started gathering other toys just for playing with.

In the process, he expanded his holdings of toy cars, motorcycles and trucks. You still can’t beat a Tonka toy, he said.

He also has a collection of handmade wooden aircraft made in Vietnam.

He said he became amazed at how children could identify the various figures from movies, television, cartoons or commercials, and at how many adults take on a look of bewilderment when they see so many toys all in one place.

“Wait until you see the look on a kid’s face when he sees this,” he said. “We tend to forget that child is still within us.”

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or by e-mail at mikep@spokesman.com.

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