Toy expert comes to town to tell you about the treasures in your attic; an update on old dispute involving large, unpaid city water bills

Someday we will all take our eclipse glasses to the Antiques Roadshow. We will pull them off the shelf, right next to our dehydrated Y2K meals, and find out they are worth so much that we can comfortably retire in a cardboard box. But until that time, you will have to find another way to turn old attic items into cash, like at a special Lawrence toy show today and Wednesday.

A fellow by the name of Joel Magee — a.k.a. America’s Toy Scout — is hosting a two-day event at the DoubleTree by Hilton — the former Holidome — where he will appraise and possibly buy old toys of all different sorts.

“There is no charge for it,” Magee said. “We just want people to dig out their old toys from their closets and attics. I would love to see them.”

Magee makes his money by buying the toys, restoring them, and selling them to collectors.

It is something he’s been doing for about 30 years now, ever since he saw an old G.I. Joe lunchbox at a flea market in Sioux City, Iowa. That rekindled his passion for toys. He then found old photos of him at Christmas with his toys. He decided to try to buy those toys that were shown in the photos.

“Ever since that day I was on a mission to acquire my childhood again,” Magee told me. “Then, everybody started asking me to look for this or look for that.”

Soon, Magee realized he could make a business out of it. He does about 25 to 30 shows a year, and he decided to add Lawrence to his list because he’s found Midwest communities are usually great toy towns.

“The reason toys are so much bigger here is because of Old Man Winter,” he said. “When it got too cold to go outside, parents would buy toys to keep the kids quiet during the day. In California and Texas, they just kicked them outside.”

Posted by America's Toy Scout Joel Magee on Sunday, January 24, 2016

Magee isn’t sure how many folks will show up in Lawrence. A recent show in Kansas City attracted several hundred people. As far as what Magee is looking for, he encourages people to bring any toy that is from the 1980s or older. But he said some of his favorites are superhero comic books, Hot Wheels cars, and Star Wars toys. If you really want to get his attention, though, bring him a Major Matt Mason doll, which in case you have forgotten, was a 1960s spaceman.

“I always imagined myself as Major Matt,” Magee said.

In addition to the appraisal services, the show also will include an exhibit of several of Magee’s top collectible items, including a Batman No. 1 comic book from 1940.

Magee said the toy business has been pretty good of late. He said popular television shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars just frequently enough feature a toy that it helps keep the public’s interest in toy collecting heightened. Magee, though, hopes to build upon that idea. He said he’s currently working on a pilot episode for a show that focuses on toy collecting. Filming is underway — he was recently in Las Vegas to film with some of the cast of Pawn Stars — and he’s working to convince The History Channel to pick up the program.

The two day Lawrence show runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the DoubleTree, 200 McDonald Drive.


In other news and notes from around town:

• After last night’s deluge, water may be on your mind. There is certainly a lot of it in my basement. But some of you have a different type of water question. I had a reader recently ask whatever became of a dispute between the city of Lawrence and its two country clubs over unpaid water bills.

If you remember, the Journal-World in 2012 reported on a dispute between the city, Lawrence Country Club and Alvamar Country Club. The city contended back then that it unintentionally had underbilled the two golf courses for city water by about $325,000 over the years. Both country clubs, though, disputed the city’s math.

The Journal-World followed up on the issue a few months later and found that that city had agreed to adjust their amount downward by $65,000; however, the two golf courses had not yet agreed to pay. There was some optimism at that time that a deal would soon be struck.

Some of that optimism, it now appears, was misplaced. I inquired about the issue with city officials several weeks ago. After they did some digging — many of the people who directly were dealing with the billing issue have since left the city — they reported back. City spokesman Porter Arneill said city records indicate the Lawrence Country Club paid $27,000 over the course of about two years to resolve the issue. The city originally had been asking for $85,000, and then reduced that amount to $60,000. I got no word about why the city ultimately decided to settle for $27,000.

However, that does appear to be quite a bit more than the city received from Alvamar Country Club. Arneill said in a statement that “our records appear to indicate that negotiations between Alvamar Golf Course and the city did not result in an agreement.” However, the city did find an accounting entry that shows about $149,000 in water charges were written off — i.e. not required to be paid — from Alvamar’s account in March 2014. The city originally was seeking $240,000 from Alvamar and then adjusted the amount down to $200,000.

I received no word on why the city didn’t try to collect the unpaid amount through legal means.

The underbilling issue certainly did create a lot of questions. We reported in 2012 that the city believed the problem began when the city switched the golf courses’ water meters from manually read meters to meters that are read remotely with equipment that monitors radio waves that emanate from the meter. The city believed a coding issue in the city’s billing system caused a digit to be dropped from the water totals measured by the meters.

Instead of reading 130,000 gallons, for example, it might show 13,000 gallons, a city official told the newspaper at the time. That seems like a pretty serious issue, but city officials at the time said they believed only the two golf courses experienced the foul-up, even though there were a handful of other remotely read meters.

I’ve asked the city to reconfirm that it didn’t find any other similar issues with other water users.

Although the issue is now about five years old, it still has some relevance today. City water users are always interested in making sure other users pay their fair shares, especially as water rates continue to increase in the city. Plus, the city is currently in discussions to add remotely read water meters on a large scale across the city.

I’ll let you know if I hear any additional information from the city.