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Sykesville exhibit highlights toys of yesteryear

This December, the Sykesville Gate House Museum has a unique exhibit, displaying pedal cars that were once very popular toy items.

"In the 1950's predominantly after WWI, pedal cars were the thing," says Dr. Mark Fraser, curator of the Sykesville Gate House Museum.

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Pedal cars were miniaturized versions of real vehicles, with a set of pedals so that children sitting in them could drive them around, Fraser said.

According to Fraser, pedal cars were quite sturdy toys, being constructed of sheets of tin or even heavier materials.

"I have a tin one, a tractor, that one belongs to the museum, but I had one that was cast iron when I was a kid," Fraser said.

The museum exhibit has five pedal cars, a red fire engine, a tractor, a vintage styled police car, a taxi and a bright red "hot rod," with the pedal cars arranged around the room in a way that evokes toys circled around a Christmas tree.

"A lot of the dads and granddads in the areas had pedal cars. We're hoping that the exhibit will not only get them here, but that they'll bring their children and grandchildren," Fraser said.

According to Fraser, the original pedal cars were mainly distributed through automotive stores.

"They were basically distributed through tire dealers. They were kind of part of a marketing effort, though some of these were toys, that would be marketed by Sears or Montgomery Wards, in department store displays," Fraser said.

Fraser said all of the cars in the exhibit are actually newly made replicas rather than originals from the 1950s, the originals being far too valuable for transport.

"The originals ... are very collectible and the better the condition the more they're worth. These are probably worth about $300 a piece and they are made with mostly sheet metal. If they were the original, they would be worth about $2,500 to $3,000," Fraser said.

The four sheet metal pedal cars in the exhibit are on loan from the collection of Westminster resident Carl House, an avid collector of automotive memorabilia with both original and replica pedal cars in his collection. House said that the most valuable and collectible pedal cars came from just a few manufacturers.

"Murray pedal car, or Garland pedal or Steelcraft pedal car. Those were the main ones. Some of them, they get up to $12,000 to $13,000 for pedal cars that a kid used to ride around." House said.

According to House, pedal "cars" came in all types and sizes, from pink station wagons to airplanes and rocket ships, but some were designed to be close replicas of actual cars on the road at the time.

"Some were replicas of existing cars, but not exactly. They had a Chrysler Airstream. If you look at the grill it looks somewhat like what the Chrysler's looked like," House said.

House said he has always been a collector of things, and that when it comes to pedal cars, it's a simple fascination.

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"I'm just a big boy with some toys. A big old man with some toys," he said.

It was the fact that pedal cars were once treasured toys rather than collectibles that lead to House loaning his cars to the museum for the exhibit.

"I think many kids nowadays don't have any idea what they are," he said.

The Sykesville Gate House Museum is located at 7283 Cooper Drive in Sykesville and is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The pedal car exhibit runs through the end of the year.

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