Back when Bud Ritter was 3, his grandfather gave him and his sister a beautiful toy bus. It wasn't just any toy bus, but a Buddy L Toys bus, made of rolled steel and big enough so that Mr. Ritter and his sister could ride on it.
It made a big impression.
Years later, after his own children were grown, Mr. Ritter began to collect the Buddy L line: fire trucks, dump trucks, cement mixers, even trains. And his collection grew, as have many collections before it, into a business.
Last December Mr. Ritter -- borrowing both his nickname and the name of the old company that made his favorite toy -- opened the Buddy R Toy Co. on Roland Avenue in the same shop that houses the Antique Circus, owned by Philip Gallant.
In the shop he sells old trains, dolls, soldiers, figures, mechanical amusements, cars, trucks and other old toys.
"Steam toys, stuffed animals -- you name it, it's here," he says.
"If you come into a shop like this, it's like revisiting your childhood. There's something here that everyone can relate to regardless of their age. I have toys here that were made in the late 1800s and some that were made in the late '70s and early '80s. And all of them are no longer manufactured and all of them are collectible."
Among the oldest toys in the place is a magic lantern made in Germany in 1892. A forerunner of the projector, it used a small alcohol lamp to light the slides. There is also a papier mache elephant from the 1800s that contains a German clockwork mechanism inside. "When it's wound up it will sit there and nod its head for hours at a time if you let it," he says.
Mr. Ritter was formerly a teacher and administrator in the public school system. After he retired in 1981, he worked for a number of years at the Antique Train and Toy World on Falls Road before deciding to go out on his own. Mr. Gallant, who has been a friend for many years, offered him the use of the shop.
"Phil does not enjoy sitting in a shop all day long. He'd rather be out finding things. So he's given me the opportunity to be here and offer what we have to those who'd like to have it," he says.
Mr. Ritter also repairs old toys and has a workshop in the back room of the shop.
While some other owners of antique toy stores hate to see children walking into their shops, Mr. Ritter encourages children to visit. "As long as the parent is with them and they listen," he says. "And most of them do. You'll find one every once in a while you really have to ride herd on.
"I have a great deal of fun explaining how a toy works to a child who has never seen it before. I guess that's part of the teacher in me. But I think that's something that is needed," he continues. "Once children know something about something that's old, how it works, they can respect the fact that you just don't treat it roughly. And I think that's good, that's something young people need to learn as early as they can."
The Buddy R Toy Co. is located at 4002 Roland Ave. in Roland Park. The shop is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the Christmas season, Mr. Ritter will probably extend the hours, staying open late one evening and adding one more day per week to the schedule. The telephone number is 467-7717.