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Valley Journals

‘Lights…camera…action’: Facebook shares West Jordan toymaker’s story with global audience

Apr 10, 2018 04:55PM

Facebook program “Returning The Favor” host Mike Rowe presents Alton Thacker’s nonprofit toymaking foundation with a $10,000 donation. (Kim Wells/West Jordan City)

By Carl Fauver carlf@mycityjournals.com

You can add a new title to Alton Thacker’s name.

In addition to being “beloved West Jordan toymaker” and “great-grandfather to 42 children,” Thacker, 82, is now also a “Facebook program star.”

“When our Tiny Tim’s episode of the show debuted (March 6) on Facebook, West Jordan City hosted a viewing party for us,” Thacker said. “There were probably 75 to 100 people there. Chick-fil-A donated sandwiches, Arctic Circle gave us milkshakes, and it was a lot more comfortable than the day the program was filmed.”

Alton is referring to the frigid day last December, when the producers of the program “Returning The Favor,” wrapped up its Utah visit by taping an impromptu parade to honor the toymaking volunteer. The show’s producers suggested the event after one of Alton’s relatives told them he loves parades. But much of the organizational work fell on West Jordan City Public Information Officer Kim Wells.

“The show didn’t give us much time to pull everything together,” she said. “And we had to hold the parade at 3:00 in the afternoon so the show would have enough light to tape it. But when I began calling around telling people it was for Alton, they jumped on board pretty quickly. So many people have been touched by his gifts. They were excited to be a part of it.”

The producers of “Returning The Favor” first learned of Thacker’s 17-year toy car-making effort from another West Jordan City employee.

“My co-worker (West Jordan City Contracts Administrator) Maureen Casper had seen previous episodes of the show and thought Alton and his foundation would be perfect for it,” Wells said. 

On the “Returning The Favor” Facebook page, show producers ask viewers to “follow host Mike Rowe as he travels the country in search of remarkable people making a difference in their communities. Returning The Favor gives back to those who pay it forward with humor, heart and surprise. Because one good turn deserves another.” 

Wells said Casper contacted the show; the producers coordinated with Alton’s granddaughter, Emily; she told them about his love of ATVs and parades; and the program coordinators asked for city leaders’ help to pull the event together.

“For only having a few days’ notice to put it together, I was happy with how the parade turned out,” Wells said. “We had representatives from West Jordan and Copper Hills high schools, Columbia and Terra Linda elementary schools. Miss Utah and the Jazz Bear were there. Our police led the parade, and one of our fire trucks was in it.”

As the guest of honor, Thacker sat in a wood-carved, “king-style” throne, provided by former West Jordan Councilman and Mayor Dave Newton.

“That was appropriate,” Wells added. “Because, when Alton first moved to West Jordan (from Sandy) to make toys, he built the cars in Dave’s garage.” 

Thacker’s car-making numbers were humble those first few years after he began toymaking in 2002. But over the years, he has picked up more woodworking equipment and moved into a larger space. Now his numbers are staggering.

“In 2016, we built 85,000 toy cars, and I wasn’t sure we’d ever be able to match it,” Thacker said. “Then when we finally added up all of the cars we made last year (2017); the number jumped to 98,000.”

And still, Alton has never sold a single one. “We only give them away,” he said.

That’s the giving spirit “Returning The Favor” wanted to share with its audience. In addition to telling Alton’s story, show producers also donated $10,000 to the “Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids.” And they gave Thacker his own toy, an all-terrain vehicle.

“A few years ago, we built five oversized models of our toy cars, large enough for a kid to ride in it at parades,” Thacker said. “But we have always had to borrow an ATV to pull them. Now that I have my own ATV, I can’t wait for the next parade. And I know it will be much warmer than the one in December was.”

After taping everything before Christmas, the “Returning The Favor” crew needed a couple of months to edit the show. That’s why its Facebook debut wasn’t until March. You can watch the program at www.facebook.com/ReturningTheFavor/videos.

In the meantime, Thacker and his team of mostly senior citizen toymaking volunteers already have its next big goal. 

“When I counted up the 98,000 toy cars we made (in 2017), I also realized we were only about 52,000 short of a million cars built since we first started,” Thacker said. “So, sometime this summer we’ll make that millionth one. I haven’t figured out yet what we might do to make it a special one.” 

The “Returning The Favor” team, along with Thacker’s thousands of Utah supporters and the hundreds of thousands of kids who now have one of his wooden cars might say Alton is actually the “special one.”