It's not every mayor who has more cars in his garage than people in his town.
Mayor Everett Edward Marshall III does.
At last count, Marshall's cars outnumbered townspeople more than 100 to 1.
Which means Marshall either has a heap of cars or a small citizenry.
Actually, he has both.
But it's his treasure on wheels that draws people from near and far to his tiny South Jersey town.
For more than 20 years, Marshall has been mayor of Newfield, a 1.7-square-mile sanctuary of quaint serenity in Gloucester County that is home to 1,600 people.
For as long as he can recall, Newfield's favorite son has been collecting Matchbox cars, those nifty little toys that fire up imaginations around the world.
Marshall estimates he has 30,000 of them, give or take a chassis or two.
Some are one of a kind. Some are prototypes from models that were never sold. Some have never felt the make-believe of a child's hands.
Put them together and, say marshall, they're worth more than a $1 million.
More than 20,000 of Marshall's four-wheeled jewels are on exhibit in the Matchbox Road Museum, in what was once his grandfather's three-car garage. It's just around the corner from where Marshall was born and raised, and next door to the third-floor apartment where he lived when he got married almost 30 years ago.
Marshall says his collection of tiny vehicles is the largest on public display in the world. He also displays a few thousand "king-size" Matchbox trucks that he describes as the largest collection of its kind, public or private.
The museum sells Matchboxes from a stock of about 10,000 duplicates of Marshall's collection, plus the regular line of toys sold in retail stores.
"I have more toys than people," said the self-effacing mayor, 50.
When visitors step inside the free museum, they see walls and walls of floor-to-ceiling plastic cases filled with Matchboxes.
"You can't come here once and see everything," Marshall said.
You can, however, visit Newfield once and see everything: Barber ship, tavern, grocery store, video store, luncheonette, hardware and bait store, pharmacy and bank.
The one-blink town, which borders Vineland and is observing its 75th anniversary, also has a volunteer fire department (Marshall is assistant chief) and a five-member police department whose biggest cases are boisterous juveniles and feuding spouses.
Oh yes, Newfield has two traffic lights, both blinkers.
It was in this Mayberry that Everett Edward Marshall III's roots were planted.
He played among the roots, too.
Among Marshall's earliest Matchbox memories was driving a small, yellow bulldozer ("I still have it") through a maze of roots from an old maple tree that stood outside his home on Catawba Street.
"It was a perfect place to drive," Marshall said with a smile. "The roots made great roads."
He bought the bulldozer, and many other Matchboxes, at a toy shop on the Ocean City Boardwalk when he was 6 or 7.
"They were 49 cents apiece. I'd buy two with my dollar allowance and get two cents' change."
Marshall's dad, Everett II, 77, always picked up a few when he went to hobby shops for trains. ("He's still buying trains.")
Besides roots, young Tucker (a nickname he picked up while visiting a San Francisco restaurant of the same name) made roads on the hardwood floor, a hunk of plywood, a pile of dirt, even the coffee table in the living room.
"I'd sit and play for hours. I was a player then. Not a collector."
It wasn't until he entered high school that Marshall put his Matchboxes aside. Actually it was his mother, Elizabeth, now 75, who put them in the attic, along with countless other toys and games.
"My mother kept everything," said Marshall, who has an older sister. "Anything we had she saved. We never threw anything out. That's the kind of people we were."
Most of those toys are still in the attic.
In 1971, after his father became ill, Marshall left college to operate the family trucking business, which had been in Newfield for decades.
Marshall also decided to get involved in politics. He ran unsuccessfully for council. It was the last election he lost. He's now in his sixth term as Newfield's mayor. Salary is $1,300 a year. "What a deal."
Marshall's Matchbox mania started in 1980.
A hobby shop a few towns over was closing, and Marshall decided to buy a few Matchboxes for son Rhett, his second of three children.
It was the beginning of a long, expensive road that has taken him across the country and to Europe in search of rare items. Like the yellow 1967 Ford GT, or the 1964 Chevy taxi with gray wheels, or the little green steamroller that was the first toy Matchbox made in 1953.
"Sometimes you have to buy a whole collection just to get one key piece," said Marshall, noting wheels, color and availability are among the factors that set the value on a model.
The most valuable "mayormobile" is the one-of-a kind pink Lincoln convertible made for a line of dolls that never really caught on.
Marshall estimates the prototype is worth $15,000.
There was a time when Marshall made two trips a year to England, where Matchboxes originated, and returned with two suitcases filled with choice vehicles.
In 1990, having run out of space in his basement, Marshall converted his grandfather's garage into the Matchbox Museum. Two years later, he expanded.
Over the years, people from such places as England, Germany, Italy and Australia have come to Newfield "just to see the museum and buy doubles."
Matchbox, a division of Mattel headquartered in Mount Laurel, N.J., loves the idea of the museum, though one company official said he wished more people could see it.
"I think it's got to move to Center City. It's too isolated," said Ron Brawer, Matchbox vice president of marketing. "It's fantastic, but it's underused."
Why is Marshall, who also is an avid golfer, so hot for Matchboxes?
"Because I'm nuts," he said, laughing. "No, really. I enjoy it. I always wanted to be good at something."
Among the thousands of toys in his collection, Marshall's favorite is a truck pulling a flatbed with a bulldozer on it.
He gave it to himself as a Christmas present six years ago. It cost $350.
"The bulldozer is like the one I bought in Ocean City when I was little. I still have it somewhere, probably in the attic.
"It was the dirtiest one I had. I guess because I played with it the most."
Back to: | | Matchbox Main Menu |