Daddy, Where's Thomas?

Like many other fathers of young children, I constantly observe that most of my house is strewn with toys and other assorted kiddy crap. And trust me, it's not because my wife and I are not constantly picking up. Sometimes, I can't believe how much stuff kids have today.

Did we have this much growing up? Did I buy this all for them? I think a large part of the problem is how cheap and available toys are today -- even at the local pharmacy on the corner. And certainly, we have low cost labor in such developing countries as India, China and Vietnam to thank for the cheap prices.

A few years back, my wife and I decided to splurge for the more expensive Thomas the Train set for our son. You know, not the plebian set available at Toys R Us or Target, but the one made from real wood only available from authorized Thomas resellers. I suppose we thought we were doing our son a favor at the time by giving him the real thing as opposed to yet another piece of plastic junk. My, we were wrong.

As many of you have probably heard of the Thomas the train recall, I'll spare you the gory details. But to explain it on a high level, the "made in China" wooden set we splurged for has been recalled because the painted train cars contained lead paint. A dozen or so wooden train cars are now sitting on one of our tables, waiting to be shipped -- at our expense -- back to the importer.

Now, you could easily expect me to go off on a tangent about issues with China quality and safety standards. But I won't go there. There's already been too much written on the subject, and moreover, the lead paint incident could have happened in any developing economy where lead is still a frequent additive. But what I will tell you is how one toy company is attempting to capitalize on the Thomas misfortune. According to a Business Week article, Maple Landmark, a wooden toymaker based in Vermont who makes a competitive product that also runs on the same size wooden train track, found its "June sales on the company's Web site up by 60% from a year ago" owing what appears in large part to the crisis in China.

Hmmm ... so now we're left with the option of shelling out big bucks to fund artisan labor in Vermont -- which is arguably more socialist than China from an economic standpoint -- or being cheap, opting for more plastic junk from Target until China can stop painting train cars with lead paint. Personally, I think I'll stick with the plastic stuff until our global toy suppliers can get it right. I mean, twenty five or thirty bucks for a two inch wooden train car? Talk about teaching our kids how not to source. When I was growing up, that was my allowance for 2 months.

Jason Busch

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