Saturday, November 26, 2005

Talkin with John Davanzo

I was wondering what was going on with Pridelines so I gave John Davanzo a call. John is a great guy with many, many years in the TCA as well a master builder of toys and trains. He is the owner and primary stakeholder in PRIDELINES in Lindenhurst, NY.

Pridelines is putting out some very cool stuff, as evidenced by the preceding two flyers showing some incredible Voltamp Cars as well as the new Clown Train.

Here goes:

MK: John, I thought you were shutting down, going out of business! What happened?
JD: We are. Marc, I'm 72 years old. This is a 7 day a week deal. My son and son in law have been doing this for almost 25 years. They want to try other things. It's not that I don't like it, somehow I think it is in your blood, especially when you do it right. This is hard work and I just need to slow down.

MK: Then why start on the Voltamp gear? And the new trains?
JD: Well, when I started collecting, Voltamp, Carlisle and Finch and so on was plentiful and very inexpensive. Nobody collected it. At one point I had well over 30 Voltamp sets. They were spectacular.

MK: No doubt about that, from what little Voltamp I have seen it has a ton of personality and quality.
JD: Correct. And that's exactly why I thought it was appropriate for Pridelines to produce it. We produce items that other folks will never produce. Either the quantities are too small or they just aren't realistic for Chinese production. These Voltamp trolleys are a perfect case in point. They are highly unusual to see as a collector. Marc, guess how many people have asked for these in standard gauge? 42. Guess how many folks wanted them in stock Voltamp configurations? 3. We've sold 45 so far.

JD: I just saw some Voltamp go at the Ward Kimball collection for $32k. That's just outrageous. That just isn't what toy trains are all about. Great product should be reasonable for everyone to afford. And with originals, I don't see prices going down anytime soon.

MK: Again, I thought you were retiring (but I do hope you sell many more of these)!
JD: I am. I'm slowing down. That doesn't stop me from liking trains or wanting to build more. I have more Voltamp standard gauge on the burner!

JD: That's right. I am thinking about some very rare Voltamp Steeple Cabs in standard gauge. With a passenger and freight set. I'm considering the project right now, doing a little planning, and some drawing.

MK: Doesn't sound like you're retiring to me. Frankly that's ok, I'd like to keep a standard gauge manufacturer going!
JD: Well, that's not going to happen. We just can't invest the time and make the quality everyone expects. Quality being the key word.

MK: What about this clown train?
JD: That's actually kind of interesting. I like circus trains and I wanted to do something different. You know we actually also proposed and used the 1764 in circus colors and paint for the circus train as well?

MK: Sign me up? Actually, I'll pass, I have plenty of 1764's. What about all of the amazing Disney stuff you produced?
JD: When Eisner came in, the Disney stuff ended. There's more to it but it doesn't need to get published. Let's just say Disney Stores and Disney proper haven't had a nice train since Pridelines stopped producing them.

MK: I'd have to agree but I would love to see the franchise rekindled some day. The use of the characters with toy trains really seemed appropriate.
JD: Our stuff was the best, no doubt about it. We really did justice to the Disney vision.

MK: I know this is the stuff of many publications, but could you tell me how you got started?
JD: I came out of the Airforce in 1958. Much of my time was at Mitchell Field in Long Island, right by Hofstra University. I went to Hofstra for a while after I left the military but they raised the prices so I left.

MK: I know, they raised the prices right before I left as well. My degree cost an arm and a leg!
JD: Well, I went to Pratt in Brooklyn. That area of Brooklyn has changed but it is still a great school. Then I worked at Grumman for 25 years. At one point after 25 years, I quit. I looked at my boss and he said "You're giving up all this!". I said "I am taking all this with me. If I can do this, putting toy trains together shouldn't be a stretch." I haven't looked back.

MK: That's a good attitude. I wish I could take that attitude in today's world.
JD: Well, I do everything with more than a touch of quality. Look at the new Voltamp motors. They are exactly like they were in the Voltamp originals. Absolutely no compromises at all. No can motors or substitutes. I am not taking any liberties.

MK: What about all of the other stuff you produced? Has eBay had an impact on your business?
JD: I get quite a few repairs and the like from eBay. eBay tends to artificially inflate prices and rarity. People purchase items that need severe repairs; the repairs cost more than the item is worth. I would urge everyone purchasing on eBay to exercise caution, especially when purchasing Pridelines items. We will still sell parts for an extended period of time and very likely support our products in perpetuity. But I get all kinds of calls from people that purchase on eBay. Just exercise some common sense.

MK: Do you see fakes?
JD: Yes, I have. Some stuff has been manufactured to look almost original. Look on the bottom of every Pridelines item. It is abundantly clear who made it.

MK: John, did you ever produce that Boucher Blue Comet?
JD: No. Only about 30% of that project was completed. Again, Boucher was not as collectible in the early days, now it is beyond rare. In the early 70's, we couldn't charge enough to make a decent living....

MK: But now....
JD: Well now is a different story and a Boucher Blue Comet would really be something. I had quite a few original Boucher sets and they were amazing. We just couldn't produce something like that today. It would just be overwhelming.

MK: I'd still love to see it if you ever did produce it.
JD: It really would be something different. That's what's missing in today's toy trains. Everyone is competing to bring out the same thing. One manufacturer brings out a product and then 3 weeks later another manufacturer brings out an identical product made in the same part of China. I really miss the days when everyone was doing different projects.

MK: Well John, I am glad you are still making toys.
JD: Look for that Voltamp soon!

Thanks John and keep up the great work as long as you can! You do one heck of a job and I know I will miss Pridelines!


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