The “2-Toy” still survives

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The 2-Toy


While back in Massachusetts visiting family, I spotted a surviving “2-Toy” at a friend’s house.

In the days when car salesman Ernie Boch used to pop out of a trunk and urge car shoppers to “c’mon down!” on commercial TV, who can forget the hyperbolic copy we wrote offering the 2-Toy as a perk to donors.

Following the days when Julia Child urged viewers to “send stamps, send coins” to keep Channel 2 going and when WGBH President David Ives sang for contributions on-air and rode a circus elephant while promising that he’d “do anything to raise money for Channel 2,” we successfully added Channel Two Umbrellas, tote bags, and on-air pledging to our efforts to successfully raise the money we required.

Ready for something new, along came the 2-Toy. “Yes, folks,” we wrote, “here it is — the long-awaited CHANNEL 2-TOY!” “Carved from a solid block of obeche wood, the Channel 2-Toy will show our appreciation for your generous support of our children’s programs…” We promised viewers that the thing had “sturdy wooden wheels,” “a pull rope,” “stood a proud six-and-one-half inches tall,” and had a “smooth, hand-rubbed finish.” What adoring parent, we thought, wouldn’t want one of these for their children to remind them of the educational value of WGBH’s programs.

Designed by the talented, Yale-educated Chris Pullman and egged on by the indefatigable Sylvia Davis, Pullman had us slowly drag a 2-TOY smeared with dog food through a miniature model train village set up on a table in Studio A. As it inched along, my Golden Retriever “Barnaby” lay on the tabletop and watched from beyond tiny rooftops as The Toy progressed “through town,” his brown eyes glued to the determined digit. My off-camera role was to keep Barnaby from jumping off the table between takes, and to slowly pull the toy along by its string.

The 2-Toy’s thematic parent was a ten-foot-high, plywood “2-MOBILE” bolted to an old Volkswagen chassis. The 2-Mobile ran fitfully, was unstable in the slightest cross-wind, and was a challenge to drive, but we did so anyway, and with great enthusiasm. The idea was to drive it through suburban communities “from the Cape to Route 128 and back to our studios by August 31st” while a large, lighted in-studio map charted progress during “the countdown to the end of our fiscal year.” In each community, volunteers organized grip-and-grin photos with local poohbahs while supporters of our children’s programs lined up, we hoped, with contributions envelopes while remote crews taped the fun. While all this was going on, we offered 2-Toys on-air.

I can’t remember how many of the wooden wonders we actually sold, nor do I recall whether the 2-Mobile actually arrived back at the studios stuffed with contributions. But it did make for some excitement and notice. One sunny afternoon, for example, we drove it nonstop through the guard gate at Hanscom Air Base, where we were supposed to have advance permission to enter. Cameraman Boyd Estus, splayed out on the roof of a chase vehicle, recorded the surprised look on the guard’s face. We thought he’d perhaps salute as we teetered through. But instead, he looked alarmed and grabbed for his phone. By the time we stopped the thing, two military police vehicles pulled up and demanded to see our permit. Today, we’d be taken to the brig.

My friends proudly keep their 2-Toy on the floor near ready for visiting grandchildren. Decorated with crayon marks, the appraisers on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW would surely find its value “inestimable.” It was, after all, yet another fun way to encourage viewer’s support, it became part of WGBH’s energetic, entrepreneurial history, it helped to distinguish us from the riff-raff, and it kept us all laughing.

David Atwood, too, still has one. It’s standing a proud six-and-one half inches tall above the desk in his home office.


  1. Ralph Shirak on December 5, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    ’tis a shame that one of the best cultural WGBH contributions of the decade was never made public, while a promotional toy gets center stage! Of course, I mean CIRCLE OF LIGHTS

    Ralph Shirak
    Kennebunk, Maine

    • Michael Ambrosino on May 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      A point of history.

      “A Circle of Lights” was funded by The Eastern Educational Network, a regional organization of public TV stations in the Northeast US, roduced by WGBH for regional distribution which included adjunct stations in Texas and California.

      I told Pete Seeger how much money we had for talent and he insisted that each participant be paid equally. He brought extra dry wood for the barn fire so that popping noises would not annoy the sound man. Toshi Seeger brought food for the evening. I added Toshi to the “talent” list so that at least two portions went to the Seeger family.

      • Ralph Shirak on May 9, 2016 at 6:28 pm

        Dear Michael — my new friend…

        I’ve waited decades for these heartfelt remarks and this news. I only hope thousands of same-thinking old WGBH lovers will see his warm thoughts and, like me, offer kudos and good cheer. It would be wonderful to see a groundswell of cries for the release of this old wonderful, priceless, truly unique and irreplaceable program for all to see!


        F Ralph Shirak
        Kennebunk, Maine

      • Ralph Shirak on May 10, 2016 at 8:32 am

        If those folks own the CIRCLE OF LIGHTS, why do they not re-show it as a Ch 2 Fundraiser? David Ives wrote me a personal letter, opining that Pete Seeger had the transcription. Still a sorry mystery! I think it has been destroyed.

        F Ralph Shirak

        • Jay Collier on May 10, 2016 at 9:41 am

          Hi, Ralph.

          Here’s the full thread on Circle of Lights from last year. I believe we answered your question and gave you contact information for WGBH for further inquiries.

          Please remember that we are an informal association of alumni, most of who do not currently have official ties to the foundation.


  2. kathy hall on November 29, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    My dad was an avid fan of Channel 2, and he kept the wooden Two toy on his bookshelf. We still have it, it is in pristine condition! Also have a new-box metal tractor trailer for First National Stores (dad’s employer in Somerville MA). Dad died last year at age 96, always a fan of public television.

    • Lo Hartnett on December 5, 2015 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks Kathy,
      Some of us remember those 2-Toys all to well, and still have a sample. There is a whole story about them, including a complaint that the wheels came off and created a kid hazard. I’m getting togehter wiht fellow fund raisers from that era and will sitr the memories. We raised a lot of money from the 2-mobile and 2-toys.

  3. Frank Lane on August 25, 2014 at 6:27 am

    I still have a 2 toy in my basement that survived my kids fun times with it. I also have a metal 2 doorstop that I still use on my front door. I don’t remember much attention about it as the 2 toy.

  4. VINKO on March 28, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    My nephew loves Martha Speaks. I want a DVD collection since season one. Thanks-a-lot!

  5. Fred Barzyk on February 25, 2014 at 10:31 am

    John Kerr wonderful tale of the 2 Toy brings back many a memory and a few laughs. Our innocence and attempts at joyous fun was the hallmark of the WGBH Family. Long live the Family. Fred Barzyk

  6. Russ Butler (1952) on February 20, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Hey, John Kerr! Good to see your post about the “2-Toy.” It sure beats those ceramic, embossed coffee mugs we decided to give as tantalizing thank you gifts at Vermont ETV. (The tote bags were more popular.)

    Hope all is safe and going well at Yellowstone with the friendly animals, et al. Still
    like your “Smokey Bear” brim hat photos, The Washington State Troopers wear the same hats in uniform here, maybe they also chase the speeding “bears”.

    Love to have your Park news and escapades from these past years. Thanks. Take care, John.

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