"It's the simple pleasures, like toys, that keep you happy"
Wells competes nationwide in toys
By LISA BUCKLEY
Wisps of white hair standing on end, Harold Uible moves soundlessly through the rooms of the Wells Manufacturing Company in New Vienna. A slender, conservative semi-retired attorney who specializes in probate law, Uible pays little mind to the gurgling and grilling of rubber and zinc. He pauses for a moment in the bubble-bottle room, blows a soap cloud in the factory, and disappears.
It's a serious business, he remarks, creating the nickel toy.
The owner of one of the last traditional five-and-dime store companies in the country, the New Vienna toymaker concocts a product designed to cater to the imagination.
Shipped to a distributor in New York City will be a complete line of jump ropes, jacks, pinwheels, poker chips, yoyo's, chalkboards and batons, which one day will appear on department store shelves all over the world.
Uible describes his product as the perfect idea for Christmas stocking stuffers, Easter baskets, dime store displays.
"In this business, it's variety with a V," says Uible, testing the bounce of a Fun Ball.
The red brick factory in downtown New Vienna was established in 1947 by Daytonian George Wells. In 1949, C.J. Uible, Harold's father, bought out the firm. One year later, Harold took over the family business.
Nickel toys became a booming business after World War II, Uible says, adding that it was a time when the smart retailer could sell anything. Coin holders and lock boxes were the company's original best sellers, soon to be followed by the Wells trademark jacks set.
Uible talks briefly about the cutthroat competition in the toy business. "It is an international challenge to produce the dime store toy. Most people don't realize how much it takes to sell something that only costs 15 ents."
Now stored in the factory are all the ingredients to prepare a Wells toy -- from the plastic pellets for bubble bottles to vats of chemical compounds for rubber balls.
In the video age, the Wells toys may look simple as they sit on the shelvess, but try maintaining some finesse, Uible says, while scattering official Wells jacks for a round of "Crack the eggs," "Pigs in the Pen" or "Slugsnail."
For the amateur, Uible distributes Wells Jacks Rule books and tournament rules are available through the company.
Workers on two shifts produce jump ropes at the rate of 614 gross per day with 14 feet of rope braided per minute.
Visitors will bounce into the rubber production room, where the steady pounding of the rubber mill can be heard as the machine boils mounds of the spongy compound for the day's turnout of 50,000 balls. In a quiet corner of the factory, a designer paints the balls with intricate swirls.
Uible says he gets responses about his toys from buyers all over the world. "One father wrote in who had bought a paddle that wasn't big enough. He requested three bigger paddles. There all kinds of pressures in this business."
The toymaker says he frequently hears of New Vienna travelers who spotted a toy thousands of miles from home. It's gratifying, thinking of the Wells, "Balles de Jeu" on the international circuit.
Uible says he is often asked why adults would want to spend their days making toys.
"It keeps us young," says Dorothy Pope, slapping braided jump ropes onto a conveyor belt.
His employees smile when he passes through, tease him about his obsession with bicycling, and compare their jobs with a particular "I Love Lucy" rerun when Lucy and Viv create havoc in a factory. On Friday's they order lunch from Ralph's.
"It's the simple pleasures, like toys, that keep you happy, "says a jump rope color coordinator.
"That's what life's all about," says Uible.
[Wells was sold in 1999 to businessmen from Columbus.]