CRAB ORCHARD, Ky. (FOX 56) — A visit to Chuck Knerr’s office is like going to a toy museum. Shelves are filled with some of the most successful toys of the 20th Century — things such as the Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Water Wiggle, Silly String, and Super Ball.
Chuck’s dad, Rich Knerr, and his friend, Spud Melin, were the inventors of those toys and hundreds of others through their company, Wham-O.
The high school friends started making toys in a garage in southern California in 1948. Now, decades later, Chuck is producing a toy in a garage in rural Kentucky.
It’s a toy kids can spin on, using only their core muscles to control it. Chuck calls it the “Whirly-Go-Round.” His dad tried to make something similar in 1961. Chuck calls it “the best toy Wham-O never made.”
“The prototype dad made was an accident waiting to happen,” Chuck said. “It was metal and your legs got tangled up. He was constantly warning me to watch out, because it wasn’t a finished product.”
“They just let it go, but I never let it go. I just kept thinking about it.”
The original spinning toy idea never got off the ground, because at the time, the company was swamped filling orders for one of its most successful toys, Slip ‘N Slide.
As a child, Chuck was a test pilot for everything his dad made.
“Testing the toys was a joy,” he said. “There were a whole lot of toys and not all of them were good,” Chuck said.
Despite testing hundreds of toys, the one that never got made was his favorite.
Chuck said, ” We were in the space race with the Russians and I felt like an astronaut in training spinning on that thing.”
Chuck’s version, the Whirly-Go-Round, is built to last. It weighs 35 pounds and is made of steel bearings and bamboo. It sells for $298, which Knerr knows makes it a high-end toy. He wants it to be an heirloom, that gets passed down from generation to generation.
He calls it an “indoor thrill ride” and says parents have told him they love it because it gives their kids some “old-fashioned” fun and exercise. He said children like to make themselves dizzy, and researchers at Penn State University have said spinning actually helps a child’s nervous system to mature and organize.
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Rich Knerr died in 2008, but not before encouraging his son to give toymaking a spin.
“As I’m working alone putting these all together, I often think about Dad and know how much he’d enjoy this if he could be here participating in some way,” Chuck said.
Chuck named his one-man toymaking operation Spud N’Rich to honor the creators of Wham-O. They sold the company in 1982.
Chuck and his wife moved to Kentucky in 2021 because they aren’t fans of city life. They chose to settle in the area after being struck by its beauty while driving through the state. The farm he lives on has given him the peaceful life he says he needed to focus on tackling his lifelong dream of producing the Whirly-Go-Round.
In this day of electronic toys and tablets, Chuck doesn’t know if kids will be immediately taken to a spinning toy as he was six decades ago, but after they try it, he’s pretty sure they’ll come around.