Area man continues to collect iconic toys from his childhood
Tommy Lin could be called a collector of hobbies, all of which he approaches with an exuberant zeal.
He snowboards the steep slopes of Killington, Vermont. He plays drums in a thrash speed metal band. He hikes trails throughout the Northeast. He games into the wee hours of the morning.
By far, though, his most unique self-proclaimed obsession has to be the hundreds of toy action figures that take up much of the real estate in the basement of his Dunmore, Lackawanna County, home.
Specifically, they're Transformers, as in the Hasbro alien robot toy line that has captured the imaginations of millions of kids since their inception in the early 1980s.
Lin, 38, was among the first generation of youngsters enthralled with the notion that a robot that, with a few quick movements, could be converted into a vehicle, appliance or weapon.
In the ensuing decades, as the Transformers' popularity peaked and dipped and rose again, most recently thanks to the blockbuster, Michael Bay-directed, live-action film series, Lin's love for them has never wavered.
For him, it has nothing to do with nostalgia for his youth. He simply finds the toys to be really cool.
"I just never grew out of it," said Lin, the longtime bar manager at Cooper's Seafood House in Scranton. "I collect them because, honestly, I never grew up. I'm not married. I don't have a kid. I still enjoy these toys as much as I did when I was a kid. I still have the same fascination with them."
Flat surfaces filled
One of the first things Lin says to first-time visitors to his basement is, "There's a lot to take in."
Transformers - new, old and not-so-old - fill almost every nook and cranny of shelf space on the walls and spread out on other flat surfaces, like Lin's unused pool table. He estimates he has upward of 700, if you count the smaller robots that make up one big Transformer.
And the collection includes more than just toys. There are Transformers movie posters, comic books, video games, DVDs, cups - heck, he even has Transformers bobbleheads and LEGOs.
In one corner, toys released in conjunction with the recent movies sit behind their packaging, looking as pristine as the day Lin purchased them. That being said, the vast majority of his Transformers reside outside their boxes. The way Lin sees it, what fun is a toy if you can't play with it?
"I'm here to collect the toys and have fun with them," he said.
The collection's oldest piece is the original Megatron, the ruthless leader of the Decepticon faction of Transformers. Lin was 7 years old when he received it during his first Christmas in the United States after his family immigrated from Taiwan.
"It just kind of took off on its own. ... Now, I've come to the point where I pick and choose them. I don't just see the Transformers logo and buy it," said Lin, who, in addition to purchasing Transformers at stores and on the Internet, has received a lot of donations from friends whose wives "think they're a little too old to have toys."
"Which I think is ridiculous," Lin said. "The label on the box says 'ages 5-plus.' It doesn't say 'ages 5 'til you get a girlfriend.'"
Since that first one, Lin has acquired 26 additional Megatrons. Meanwhile, he has about 40 Optimus Primes, the heroic and wise leader of the Autobots and most certainly the most popular of all the Transformers.
Optimus Prime has been Lin's favorite Transformer ever since the 1986 "Transformers" animated film, during which the character dies. Of course, he has the original Prime action figure, as well as the recent Masterpiece edition made by a third-party Japanese company unaffiliated with the Hasbro line. What he really likes about that particular one is that Prime's face looks exactly as it does in the '80s "Transformers" cartoon series. It's "cartoon-perfect," as Lin put it.
His collection also includes the biggest Transformer ever built, Metroplex, which stands more than 2 feet tall, as well as plenty of tiny Microbots. There are Dinobots and figures from the "Beast Wars" and "Beast Machines" eras. Some of the toys were made specifically for conventions.
He has canary-yellow Volkswagen Beetle-transforming Bumblebee, although he's no big fan.
"All due respect, I hate Bumblebee," he said. "He's a pointless character. Bumblebee's lame."
Lin said "Transformers" movie-line toys are generally good, but they "look whimpy" when compared to the originals.
And don't get him started on the movies themselves. While he enjoys the effects, "the story lines suck," he said.
"I'll skip every scene with the humans. If Michael Bay set it where the humans were cut, I'd watch it," he said.
There was a time when Lin enjoyed arguing "Transformers" mythology with fellow diehards. Now, although, he mostly just cares about the toys.
"I leave it to others to argue the history," he said. "The problem with origin is you get a new writer who wasn't there at the beginning. That's like me telling the history of the American Civil War. I wasn't there. The mythology of it gets lost, just like religion, or philosophy."
Lin has had the collection appraised, and figures it's now worth a substantial amount of money. However, he has no intention of selling his Transformers. They're a source of pride, a hobby worth maintaining for the long run.
"If you're going to do something," he said, "do it all the way or don't do it at all."