Friday, August 30, 2013

Mold-A-Ramas at the Henry Ford Museum

The Mold-A-Rama collection is growing.  To the point where we've officially declared ourselves "Mold-A-Rama Collectors."

When I showed my kids the online map of all the Mold-A-Ramas in existence (which all apparently happen to be in this country) Quinn lit up and said, "We could get all the Mold-A-Ramas in the world."  So maybe we will.

After successfully obtaining the dozen Mold-A-Ramas from our zoo, plus the bonus Mold-A-Rama not on the map, we decided to take advantage of the fact that while we were in Detroit there were supposed to be more there.  Specifically at Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum.

I hadn't been to Greenfield Village since I was a kid.  It's an odd place, really, in Dearborn, Michigan.  I explained to my kids that I didn't think anyone would do such a thing today, but back then apparently it seemed like a good idea to assemble a tiny, fake community out of historic buildings from other sites.  The Wright Brothers' shop from Dayton is there, within easy walking distance of Edison's Menlo Park complex from New Jersey.  That cool clock down the street with the figures that come out to ring the bell on the hour?  From London.  Noah Webster's home is there, as is the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law.  It's very American, making a tour of historical buildings so convenient.

I think it's weird.  If I'm looking out the windows of the Wright Brothers' shop I want to at least have a sense of really being where they were.  It seems wrong to move all those buildings to one place.  But when I said that to the kids, my daughter, Mona, just smiled and said, "I think it's wonderful."

The initial inspiration for the trip down to Greenfield Village may have been to collect some more Mold-A-Ramas, but by the time we got there the kids were genuinely excited about seeing historic sites.  When we arrived in the morning the lines were long.  I warned the kids we didn't have time to do both Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum next door so they should pick one, and they picked the Village.  But then when I got to the front of the line and asked where on the map the Mold-A-Ramas were, they said all of them were in the Henry Ford Museum now.

I'd sent the kids to wait by a fountain and put on sunscreen while I stood in line, but Mona joined me because it makes her sad when I'm alone.  I asked her what she wanted to do and she was torn.  She decided she was willing to forgo Mold-A-Ramas for the chance to see Edison's lab.  It's all pretty expensive, so I decided at that point to just splurge the extra $40 and get a full membership that would get us into both.  (Plus, that way we can go back anytime we're in Detroit, so why not?)

Wright Brothers' Shop
We had about as nice a day as we could ask for.  The kids loved everything.  They ooohed and aaahed at the Wright Brothers' shop, enjoyed the actor playing Edison outside of his lab, rode the carousel, touched a duck, learned about textiles, and even found out Henry Ford had a machine in his home for knitting silk socks for himself and his family.

carousel built in 1913
Edison's lab

Quinn admiring Henry Ford's sock knitting machines
On top of all that there were hands-on things to try.  I signed the kids up to weave "bookmarks" which they really enjoyed.  They want us to get a little loom for home, now.  I got to make a glass flower.  (Glass making is another one of those skills I would like to learn if there were only a million extra hours in a day.)
Aden and Quinn working on their looms
Quinn's weaving
My glass flower getting trimmed off
We spent hours longer than we'd planned walking all over Greenfield Village and the kids never got whiny or fussy.  Quinn got tired at one point and held up his arms to be carried, but once we got inside the Henry Ford Museum he got his second wind and literally hit the ground running.

Ian and I planned to drive back to Milwaukee that night in order to be in the Amazing Milwaukee Race On Bikes the next day, so we'd hoped to get on the road fairly early.  But I just couldn't cut the time short on our little field trip for the kids.  They were having way too much fun and I figured it was worth driving through Chicago at midnight just to see them so happy for a little longer.

Which means by the time we got into the Henry Ford Museum we didn't have more than an hour to find everything.  We asked a man at a desk where all the Mold-A-Rama machines were, and he could recall locations for nine of the ten and we put them on our map.

The kids were under strict instructions to not learn anything.  No dawdling, no reading, no education.  We were on a Mold-A-Rama mission and time was short and they needed to stick to business.

They found this HILARIOUS.  They kept stopping at displays to read information and then excitedly telling me, "I learned about that plane!  I know where that car is from!  I think I'm getting smarter!" and I would say emphatically, "No no no!  No learning!  No time for learning!" and they laughed and tried to sneak in as much education as they could as we ran from room to room.

The Mold-A-Ramas in the Henry Ford Museum were really clean compared to the ones at the Milwaukee Zoo.  And they were in close proximity to one another so we felt like we were tripping over them at every turn.  The first two we found had a Mustang and a bust of JFK.  Then we entered the museum itself where the Wienermobile was on display with its matching Wienermobile Mold-A-Rama, but the machine was running hot and kept spitting out deformed models.
Mold-A-Rama Fail!
Turns out you can trade in any deformed Mold-A-Rama figures at the desk for a good one stored in the back, which is what we ended up doing for our Wienermobile.

Next we found four machines in a row!  Talk about a Mold-A-Rama Rama: Lincoln's head, JFK's car, Rosa Park's bus, and a revolutionary soldier firing a canon that weirdly looks like a baby buggy.  It is hard to describe the joy expressed by the kids when they found all these machines together.

At the end of the hall were two more machines, one for a figure of Henry Ford himself, and a steam locomotive.  That brought us to nine, and an end to everything the man at the desk was able to show us on our map.  So we began hunting all around the rest of the museum, accidentally learning things along the way.

Eventually, with time running short, we went to trade in our defective Wienermobiles and asked the all-knowing woman at the IMAX counter where the missing Mold-A-Rama might be.  She said it was a Model-T tucked away in the Model-T exhibit behind a wall.  We found it quickly and successfully collected the last figure in the set.

As we've done more exploring into this Mold-A-Rama world, however, we're starting to realize how tricky it will be to get everything, because different locations may switch out their molds.  Greenfield Village supposedly used to have one of a carousel horse.  And apparently the Milwaukee Zoo also has molds for various dinosaurs that they used a few years back for a special exhibit.  They just took out, say, the mountain lion for that summer and replaced it with a T-Rex.  And I've read that our zoo also has had a flamingo.  We'll just have to keep an eye out for things if they change, and hope for the best when we collect Mold-A-Ramas in places we are unlikely to return (say, if we ever get to Florida or Texas).

Plus, did you know there are villains in the Mold-A-Rama universe?  There were signs on every machine on our last trip to the zoo offering a reward for this guy who is vandalizing Mold-A-Rama machines:

We dubbed him the "Mold-A-Ruiner."

So, our collection continues to grow, and if our mantel gets too full we will maybe build a special display case for our two-dollar plastic treasures.  In the meantime, the hunt goes on, with plans to capture more specimens in Chicago this fall.  Stay tuned.


  1. mold-a-rama rama??!! you totally crack me up! I love the "no learning! we're on a mission" mantra. $40 for a museum? Wow, makes me happy for the millionth time all of our museums and zoos are free around here. Mt. Vernon (one of our favorite haunts) we do have to pay for, but it's pretty cheap and we don't go too often.

    No worries...I am staying tuned in the mold-a-rama saga :)

    1. $40 EXTRA. The bill for an adult and four kids was over $90 just to get into the Village, so at that point paying extra for a full membership card to all of it seemed like the way to go. Crazy. Looking forward to hitting DC with the kids next summer and enjoying all the free things there.

      Of course, free museums and zoos aren't really free, we're just spreading out the costs collectively or through the generosity of donors, which I think is best for making sure everyone has access. Greenfield Village was kind of like the toll road of field trips.

  2. Mold-o-rama???? was totally unfamiliar with this before reading your story. My kids would have loved this when they were little. they always wanted to flatten a coin but there was really nothing terribly interesting to look at compared with these bright treasures.

    1. My kids are into squished penny machines, too, but there are too many of those to hope to collect them all. The only drawback to the Mold-A-Ramas so far is that they break if you play with them too hard, and my son plays with them too hard. They make better display objects than actual toys.

  3. First, I have to say I actually laughed out loud at the "no learning"! :o)

    This Mold-a-Rama collecting is too much fun! Who knew something so simple could turn into such a family adventure?

    When my mom visited Detroit, she did both Greenfield Village (which she also proclaimed to be rather strange) and the Henry Ford Museum. However, she did NOT bring me any Mold-a-Ramas. I'm beginning to feel deprived!

    1. Well, if you are ever in Milwaukee we'll take your girls on a Mold-A-Rama spree at the zoo.

  4. Awesome! I was at the Milw Zoo today and was happy to see most of the machines back in operation and the "mold a ruiner" signs gone!