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Valley Journals

One million wooden cars and counting for Alton Thacker and his merry band of toymakers

Jul 25, 2018 05:11PM ● By City Journals Staff

West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding (L) joins Alton and Cheryl Thacker, as the toymaker shows off the one -millionth small, wooden car he and his volunteers built this summer. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | carlf@mycityjournals.com 

Perhaps the closest thing West Jordan has to a bonafide celebrity—toymaker Alton Thacker—served as grand marshal at the city’s annual children’s parade to kick off its Fourth of July celebration. And he accepted the honorary duty just a couple of weeks after he and his mostly-senior citizen volunteer toymakers—with Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids—reached a monumental milestone. 

“On June 14 we built our one-millionth toy car,” Thacker said, just before leading the parade out. “And this year we are on pace to build more than any previous year. We’ll go over 100,000 cars.” 

Grand Marshal Alton Thacker pulled several kids in oversized replicas of his toy cars to lead the West Jordan Children’s Parade. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

 If he had sold the cars for just a dollar a piece, which would be a tremendous bargain, Thacker’s small, four-wheeled creations would have earned his shop $1 million since he began in 2002. But the 82-year-old has never sold a one, choosing instead to give them all away. 

It’s not a great business model, but Thacker doesn’t operate a business. He trades in the smiles kids give him—from across the globe—after receiving one of his toy cars. 

“We are so excited to have Alton as our (children’s parade) grand marshal,” West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding said. “This parade is all about kids, and so is he. We are proud Alton runs his toy making shop here in West Jordan. He brings a lot of joy to a lot of people.” 

As he neared the end of what would be a 47-year career as a barber, Thacker began making toy cars at his Sandy home in 2002. He soon outgrew that space, and also a West Jordan garage that was donated for his team to work in, by former West Jordan Mayor and Councilman Dave Newton. 

In 2010, Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids took up residency at its current, rented location (1423 West 8120 South). But paying the rent proved to be a challenge—at least until the media finally caught up to what he was doing. 

“Over the years, we have received positive coverage from local media, which helped generate some donations to help pay the rent,” Thacker said. “But when Mike Rowe’s show came out, that was a real game changer.” 

Four months ago in these pages, we told you about Alton’s internet program debut on host Mike Rowe’s show “Returning the Favor.” The program highlights volunteers such as Thacker—from across the country—which serve their communities through volunteerism. After spotlighting Alton’s foundation, show producers also donated a four-wheeler for Thacker to use when pulling kids in parades. But Alton says that was not the best thing “Returning the Favor” did.

“The publicity from that show has been incredible,” he said. “It has helped us generate more donations to pay our rent and other bills. And it has also motivated other people—from around the world—to reach out to me, saying they now want to set up volunteer toy making shops like ours.” 

In just the few months since Thacker became a Facebook star, he said he has been approached by people in Maine, Costa Rica and even Malawi, Africa, seeking “How can we do it too?” information. 

So does that mean franchising opportunities for Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids? Maybe there’s still a million dollars to be made. But Thacker’s wife Cheryl jumps in to answer that question, before he can even draw a breath. 

“We don’t want all that extra work,” she said. “I know Alton is just excited to see these other people consider opening more toy making shops, because the kids will benefit.” 

After speaking briefly to the West Jordan children’s parade gathering, The Thackers jumped into their parade float and began pulling kids, including a couple of great-grandchildren.

Foundation toy shop volunteers constructed 85,000 of the wooden cars in 2016, 98,000 last year. They are on pace to build more than 100,000 this year. Many of the toys are painted by a prison inmate work group in Gunnison, along with Boy Scouts and other volunteers. 

The toys are then distributed to area hospitals, service organizations and many other groups that serve children and measure success one smile at a time. 

“We are so proud of him,” Thacker’s granddaughter Erica Fish said, as she was securing two of her kids in one of the cars to be pulled in the parade by their great-grandpa. “He found a great cause and is so devoted to it.”