My Story - How I Got Started in Plastics and About This Website
I guess it was back in the year 2002 when I found myself acquiring some toys that I either had as a kid or wish that I had. This activity focused on some toys made in the 1960s and were considered “big plastic.” My kids had heard about the toys that I consider to be the greatest toys ever made, and I thought it was time for my kids to see and use these toys first hand. I consider these three toys to be the best ever made from my childhood:
Johnny Express – made by the Topper Toy Company
Switch ‘n’ Go – made by Mattel
Johnny Astro – made by the Topper Toy Company
There are some things written on the Internet to describe the toys above. For a few links, check out the “Links” page on this website.
So I started out by getting a couple of Johnny Express trucks from Ebay and fixed them up and got them to work again. Then I did the same thing for Switch ‘n’ Go and then Johnny Astro. But I found it really hard to get many parts for the toys and, since I wanted to rebuild enough Johnny Express trucks to get the fleet of all six they made, I had to find or develop a source for the parts.
I wanted to restore all six Johnny Express trucks and I found it nearly impossible to locate enough mirrors or exhaust pipes. I did obtain a set of original mirrors from a local collector, but was only able to acquire broken exhaust pipe pieces. Being an engineer by profession, I set out to explore the possibility of getting reproduction parts made in industry. I found out that this would have been extremely expensive to do as the plastics companies I contacted wanted hundreds or thousands of dollars up front for tooling and set ups just to make a single part – and this was (in some cases) without a guarantee of producing any sizable quantities of reproductions. So it was pretty clear to me that the companies simply were not interested in making reproduction parts for my hobby.
Long before I became an engineer, I was a hobbyist and I will always be a hobbyist. So I did what any hobbyist would do – I set out to find out how to make plastic replication parts myself. I saw an ad on Ebay for a reproduction plastic toy part and I sent an Email to the person who had the listing – a guy named Chris who lives out in California and makes reproduction parts. Chris responded back and he set me on my way to learn about mold making and urethane casting...in a short period of time, I began making replication plastic parts myself. See the Smooth-On plastics website at http://www/smooth-on.com for “getting started” kits if you might be interested in trying your hand at plastics. [Please note that this not an inexpensive hobby – see the liquid rubber items that are about $160 per gallon as of this writing.]
Pretty soon toy collectors started sending me plastic parts to replicate and I was able to borrow a “somewhat intact” Johnny Express exhaust pipe and get a machined replication made out of aluminum – and then I molded that to make exhaust pipe replications in plastic. Then I went on to tackle other parts – lug nuts, remote control unit handles, remote control unit bottoms, the liquid tanker accessory parts that were always missing or broken, etc. The work and the learning continued and I was able to restore the fleet of six Johnny Express vehicles to their rightful glory. The pictures on this page are presented side by side, you can "mouse over" any picture on this web page and watch that picture change into another picture. So here goes, enjoy...
Then one day I had this idea about replicating an entire toy and decided to do it as a project with my younger son's Boy Scout Troop. In this way a group of kids could learn how to make plastic parts as well – and they did it and built their own working toy in the process. Check out the Johnny Astro Replication Project at http://www.johnnyastro.com/. This project took over one year to do and the kids really were involved in all phases of the activity. A terrific article on Johnny Astro and Inventor Sol Friedman was published in the New York Times on January 27, 2007 – and our Boy Scout Project was mentioned in detail. Check out the “Links” section of this website if you wish to read the entire article – it is pretty neat to say the least. A summary of the Boy Scout project, along with some current replication work for Johnny Astro, is also presented in the “Tribute to Sol Friedman” video. Check out the “Media” section of this website if you wish to view this video and other videos as well. Take a look at a few of the replications the kids made themselves:
My efforts on making plastic parts continued and I soon added new processes and new methodologies. Pressure casting capability was added to my workshop and I developed some of my own custom techniques for reproducing parts that result in near exact replications of the original part molded. Going back to the time of the Boy Scout Replication Project, I had been in touch with Nap Pepin who developed the Johnny Astro Website – and with his assistance – Replication Johnny Astro Landing Carriages are now produced out of my workshop. I spent two years on this task and almost gave up more than once, but the perseverance has paid off resulting in the provision of new Johnny Astro Landing Carriages to owners of that toy all over. See the video on our website for how this is done. Note that the replication landing carriages may be are offered through both the AEP website and the Johnny Astro website. Check with us.
I take great pride in the quality of my work and I am constantly trying to improve my capabilities. There are parts that I manufacture today that I simply could not do a year or two ago, and I plan on making that same statement again next year. The AEP workshop has been constructed in order to develop new replication plastic parts on demand. The AEP workshop utilizes pretty high end state of the art processes for a hobby of this type, and has a "retro" look consistent with the nostalgia factor associated with toys of the 1960's. We'll continue to look for an avocado green colored refrigerator for the shop (only kidding). Have a glimpse inside the AEP workshop:
These pictures, and the ones above are of the new AEP Workshop in NY. Note that I now have more benches and added capability. It is in the plans to utilize one of the benches I just made to mount one of the pressure tanks in a horizontal orientation - now it will be possible to mold the Johnny Astro Explorer toy and replicate that in its entirety. The shop also has a woodworking section (not pictured)...I will be calling my good friend Spencer about getting some additional floor tiles to finish off this section soon. See below for a few more pictures:
My son Jeffrey came up with the idea of a website and he created a home page for a website design class he took in high school. He also created the animations, imbedded the video entries, created the “antique look” for the picture on the home page and created the banner present on all of the pages. My younger son David did the camera work for the videos seen on this site and has also been instrumental in getting multiple elements developed for this website. He has also been a big help with developing the HTML code for the site, including the toolbar in use and performance verifications of the various web pages with different web browsers. This first iteration of the AEP website is an outgrowth of Jeffrey’s original concept – and it is done in basic HTML so that I can maintain it at this point. It is likely that the web site will be redone at some point in time to fully comply with the original concept.
So today I make replication plastic toy parts for Johnny Express and Johnny Astro. This site contains a listing of parts currently being offered along with descriptions and prices. Please contact me directly via Email if you wish to purchase any parts. I have also molded parts from other antique toys and have made those for collectors as well – and I will do the same for other people who are looking to have reproductions made from an original. If you are interested in doing that, then just Email AstroExpressParts.com a picture of the part along with approximate dimensions, and I will send you a quote. If you want the part replicated you will have to send it to me, but don’t worry – I will return it to you undamaged after I am done – along with the replications you need also. Please let me know if there are other toy parts you are looking to have reproduced, even if you do not have an original part, I plan to put this website to use in getting additional parts made.
While this activity is done in a workshop environment, the materials and processes used are NOT cheap. For instance, the liquid rubber types used for molding parts cost about $160 per gallon and some parts I manufacture can require workshop processing time in excess of 16 hours. There are also consumables used to make the molds and cast the parts, and these are not free also. Prices are kept as low as low as possible to insure the economic viability of my operation so the AEP Workshop can at least break even for any of the jobs taken on. Please note that I am committed to making the best parts possible and offering them at a reasonable price. I am committed to making the highest quality reproduction parts possible to continue the legacy of the great toys from my youth.