Walking through Al Przybylski's enormous toy and antique collections seems more like a family scrapbook than a typical museum.

There are toy fire trucks and a firefighter outfit to honor his son Joe, a 20-year veteran firefighter. There's a large button collection started by one of his daughters. There's a toy car collection started long ago by one of his grandsons.

"Our son Alan flies, so then we had to get airplane stuff," Al's wife Irene Przybylski said of the many toy airplanes, propellers and other flight-themed collectibles.

The pair is also working on a military exhibit to honor the family's military members, including a WWI soldier and a WWII prisoner of war.

The thousands of toys and antique items filling an old shed on 147th Street, north of Chippewa Falls, are the result of 17 years of thrift sales, auctions and internet searches. And many of the items on display tell a story about the Przybylski family.

Local history

It all started about 17 years ago with a train set. Al always liked toy trains and decided to build a scale model town in his shed to complement his trains.

Naturally, the tiny community mirrored Chippewa Falls. There are models along the tracks representing longstanding local businesses, including Leinenkugels Brewery and O'Neil Creek Campground. The latter has special significance, since Al and Irene started the campground back in 1964.

"That was a lot of fun. It was great meeting everyone," Irene said of the camp she and her husband ran for about 30 years.

But that was only one of the Przybylski's business endeavors. Originally from Lake Delton, the couple moved to Chippewa Falls in 1958 to start a dairy farm. Then Al and Irene became involved in raising elk, buffalo and other game animals, and also selling RVs.

Their agricultural background is also reflected in the collections, with model farms, farm tools and equipment, and even full-size antique tractors.

"Everything is built to scale (for the toys)," Al said of the farm models displaying his collectibles.

Another local connection with the farm models is a house that is a scale replica of an actual home in Tilden.

"We took a picture of (the house) and built it from that," Irene said.

Wide appeal

Along with the more sentimental items, the enormous collection features toys from a wide range of decades and interests. And each toy is either in protective packaging or has been restored to mint condition by Al or a friend of his who helps out.

There are a number of collectibles for popular movies such as Star Wars and Ghostbusters, a few Shirley Temple dolls, some Dick and Jane novels, antique bicycles and wagons, and thousands of toy cars and trucks, just to scratch the surface.

In fact, there are so many toys Al said people who have come through multiple times have remarked that they will find something they hadn't seen before. And while some are too young to know a lot of the toys, older visitors will fondly recall the toys of their childhoods.

At first, the collection features a lot of traditionally "boys" toys, but Irene said she helped give a woman's touch by adding dolls and antique household items.

The latter category holds one of the most valuable pieces of the collection.

"The mini cook stove is a salesman sample … and it was valued at about $6,000," Al said.

But while Al knows he has a valuable collection, he's not interested in selling any of it. Plenty offer, but Al and Irene prefer to keep the collection together.

"My kids say 'why don't you sell it and retire?' and I say 'well then we won't have anything to do and we'll be bugging you,'" Irene joked.

Al and Irene are still adding to the collection, though it has been getting more difficult. The pair used to get items at thrift sales and online, though more people are looking to keep valuable items and antiques.

"It's unfortunate because (those items) sit in an attic and collect dust," Irene said.

To spend about 17 years collecting and restoring thousands of toys and other antique items takes quite a commitment. And Al said he's fortunate to have had the help and support of his wife. On Wednesday, the pair celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary.

"In this set-up, you need a good partner in life," Al said. "My wife has done a lot to help me with this."

Though it's easy to get jealous of such a time-consuming hobby.

"If I died today, I'd want to come back as a toy truck. Then he'd pay attention to me," Irene joked.


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