Custom Love My Firefighter Zazzle

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SOUTHERN INDIANA — Team Kulmer would be the envy of any racing outfit.

A virtually unlimited supply of vehicles. An unparallelled test track. Generous benefactors.

Isn't that right, mom?

"They can make it pretty wild in here," said Amber Kulmer, whose three sons (and sometimes, her husband) regularly turn their New Albany home into a proving ground for Hot Wheels experimentation. "They are definitely Hot Wheels fans."

As the iconic Mattel brand celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Southern Indiana enthusiasts share fond memories of the miniature toys that appeal to generations — and represent the antithesis of a plugged in, technology-crazed society.

"They use their imagination. They're not sitting in front of a TV screen mindlessly looking at it," Kulmer said of her boys: Lawson, 13; Ian, 12; and Judah, 2. "They're all playing together and using their imagination and enjoying it."


Hot Wheels debuted in 1968 (but actually hit toy store shelves in late 1967) with the "Original Sweet 16" lineup, the hot pink Custom Camaro being the first out of the gate. Hot Wheels fans can thank Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler for revolutionizing the toy industry with the cars and the trademark orange track that goaded kids to "race 'em or stunt 'em."

Handler's wife and Mattel co-owner, Ruth, created a toy for girls that you may have heard of: Barbie. Seeking something for boys, Handler enlisted a GM car designer and an actual rocket scientist to create what would eventually become the Hot Wheels brand.

Generations have been hooked ever since.

Team Kulmer has two totes full of track and more than 150 Hot Wheels new and old, many of which belonged to their dad, Matthew, who is 39.

"They love it," Amber Kulmer said. "It's something that spans all generations."

The racing and stunting that goes on in the Kulmer household would make Elliot Handler proud. Orange track can be found strewn about the house from one room to the next, and the garage, complete with loops and a battery-powered ejector that provides an extra boost.

"The boys call dad in every once in a while when they have a good one," Kulmer said of the track creations. "He gets involved."

At 97 cents a pop, Hot Wheels also are an inexpensive kind of fun, not to mention the perfect stocking-stuffer during Christmas.

"We put five or six of them in their stocking and they're thrilled to see all the different makes and models of cars," Kulmer said. "It's affordable and keeps them happy."


Jeffersonville resident Scott Dorman has fond memories of playing with Hot Wheels as a kid in the 1970s. Who didn't put a Black Cat firecracker inside the toys and "let them explode," as Dorman puts it.

The 48-year-old optician has been collecting Hot Wheels since 1991. Up in Dorman's attic you'll find tubs containing about 500 of the cars still in their original packaging. He says his collection is nothing compared to others he's seen, which fill up entire basements.

"I just do it for fun," Dorman said.

His favorite Hot Wheels are hot rods of the 1960s and early '70s.

"The ones that look like real cars," Dorman said. "I'm not Jay Leno so I go small-scale. I can get one for 50 cents versus $50,000."

Nothing beats Hot Wheels' attention to detail, Dorman insists. Others have tried to replicate its success, with Matchbox being the biggest. All have come up short in Dorman's eyes.

"It's just awesome they've been around 50 years," he said. "It looks like the real car. The real car you can't have."

Unfortunately, Dorman didn't keep any of the Hot Wheels from his childhood. Especially the ones blown to smithereens. He sure would like that '57 Chevy with blue windows back. And the Corvette with the American flag that he's seen go for well over $100.

"To see what they go for now, it's hilarious," he said. "I had every one of those."

(The most valuable Hot Wheels, by the way, is the 1969 Volkswagen Beach Bomb prototype, which is worth an estimated $150,000.)

Dorman, who has two daughters ages 17 and 10, hopes for grandkids some day that might enjoy his collection. For now, his 11-year-old nephew gets the spoils.

"Once in a while I'll get them out of the package. I'll say, 'I can spare this one,'" Dorman said. "You've got to play with them eventually."


Some Hot Wheels enthusiasts collect a certain category of vehicles.

New Albany resident Timothy Hardin scours eBay and other websites, as well as yard sales and stores like the Peddlers Mall, for fire services Hot Wheels.

While Hot Wheels didn't produce a lot of emergency services vehicles, according to Hardin, he has managed to collect at least 50 pieces. Add in Matchbox and other brands, and his collection totals about 650 pieces, many of which are in original blisters and tacked to the walls in his Riverview Towers apartment.

"What I enjoy most about it is it reminds me of my childhood," said Hardin, 53, who is on disability but says he was a former New Albany Township firefighter. "It will give my children something they can carry on and collect for the next 50 years."

Some of Hardin's oldest vehicles include a two-piece, red-line ladder fire truck that came out in the early 1970s, and some Chevy conversion-van-like ambulances that also were issued in the early '70s.

"Collecting has always been in my heart," Hardin said. "If I see something I don't have, I kind of cry. It's like I'm a little boy that's grown up."

While some of the Hot Wheels are displayed on walls, Hardin has no problem putting them into action.

"I don't let them sit. They get rolled around and go on emergency runs," he said. "They get moved around because we have to dust."

As for the Kulmer clan, old wounds are slow to heal.

When dad Matthew was 3 he broke his wrist on a launcher piece that sends cars zooming down the track — a piece that his boys use to this day.

Proof that Hot Wheels is a toy for the ages.

"It's something they can all enjoy together," mom Amber Kulmer said. "They get a lot of pleasure out of it."

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