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The Elbert Files: Ames, a Hobby Shop Town


Mike Templeton, owner of the Hobby Shop, the second-oldest business on Main Street in Ames, knows a lot about model airplanes, cars and trains.

He should. The 63-year-old has been roaming the aisles of one of Iowa’s most remarkable businesses since he was a boy in the 1960s.

Templeton bought the Hobby Shop in 2016 from its second owner, Doug Samson, who had purchased it from founder Earl Noid in 1979.

Before coming to Ames in 1949, Noid owned a cigar store in Marshalltown. He sold the store to buy a paint and wallpaper shop on the east end of Ames’ business district and pursue his dream of opening a craft store.

The storefront at 200 Main St. had a wall-to-wall picture window that has since beckoned generations of passers-by with displays of model airplanes, toy trains and gyroscopes.

Noid’s store was a hangout for kids, including my older brother and me. It sold just about everything a 10-year-old could want, from Slinkys to Silly Putty, with tools for burning wood, working leather and shaping copper.

There was also a large supply of balsa wood, which Noid told the Ames Daily Tribune in 1954 was “used by college students for model use in architecture courses.”   

In 1960, Noid told the Tribune that “Ames is probably one of the most if not the most hobby conscious towns in the country.” He speculated that it had to do with “college people working with their hands during free time,” and said he’d tried selling similar items at his cigar store in Marshalltown but failed “miserably.”

Templeton, the current owner, has pretty much been a fixture at the Hobby Shop since the 1960s, when he began buying model cars as an 8-year-old.

“I left modeling for seven or eight years when I turned 16,” Templeton told me recently, “because dating girls took pretty much all of my disposable income.”

But he came back in his mid-20s, after Samson had taken over the store and Templeton was working for the railroad, repairing and replacing track throughout Iowa.

The railroad gave Templeton winters off, so he resumed building models in the winter.

“Hobby sales are the opposite of a Dairy Queen,” Templeton explained. “Good in cold weather, bad when it’s hot.” 

During his down time Templeton hung out at the Hobby Shop, helping Samson with sales on busy days, taking inventory or just sweeping up.

“Doug even gave me a key to the back door,” Templeton said.

For several years, Samson encouraged Templeton to buy him out and take over the business.

Templeton said once he secured his railroad pension, that’s what he did.  

The store’s clientele is a lot older today, some college students but more middle-aged and older model builders, people like Templeton, who never outgrew their love of model building. 

Today there is only one business on Ames’ Main Street that is older than the Hobby Shop. That’s the Grove Cafe, which opened a year before the Hobby Shop and is located a few doors east.

Templeton has a mind that works like the many intricate plastic models he’s built over the years. It’s full of thousands of bits of information about models and model making, just waiting to be pried loose and assembled.

Prod him in the right direction and he’ll explain the evolution of model-building glue from the sticky slow-drying gel that that befuddled my youthful efforts at assembling a P-38 fighter plane to today’s quick-drying liquids.

Point him in another direction and he’ll tell you how the toyless years of the Great Depression gave rise to model cars, which began as sales tools to sell new cars in the postwar economy.

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