Pa. wheelbarrow makers root for their favorite Monopoly token
HARRISBURG, Feb 02, 2013 (The Philadelphia Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In a noisy warehouse a mile from the Capitol, workers push sheets of steel through giant machines that turn the slices of metal into polished wheelbarrows. A new one rolls off the assembly line every six seconds.
The Ames True Temper plant proudly calls itself the wheelbarrow capital of the world, a distinction claimed since 1876, when the original company, Jackson Manufacturing, began industrialized production of the implements.
So workers there were dismayed to learn last month that the maker of Monopoly planned to retire one of the game's familiar tokens and Las Vegas oddsmakers predicted the silvery little wheelbarrow would lose the popularity contest.
And thus was launched the "Save the Wheelbarrow" campaign.
Hasbro Gaming said it was time to replace one of the Monopoly tokens that bespeak a bygone era -- the hand iron, round-edged race car, thimble, battleship, boot, top hat, Scottie dog, and, last but not least, wheelbarrow -- with one of five pieces more reflective of contemporary society, like a helicopter. Or a robot.
They decided to let game fans vote on the Monopoly Facebook page to determine which new token would be added -- and which scuttled.
"The tokens that are in the game today represent household items from the 1930s when the game was first introduced," said Jonathan Berkowitz, vice president of marketing for Hasbro. "We wanted to introduce a new token to the game that's more representative of today's Monopoly players."
That was enough to light a fire under Ames corporate leaders. They, too, turned to social media to save the miniature symbol of one of the most ubiquitous products, found in garages and barns throughout the country.
"It's a classic icon of America's heritage," said Eric Bernstein, Ames vice president of marketing. "When we heard the odds were against it surviving, that fired us up."
The company posted a notice on its website urging people to cast votes for the wheelbarrow, still the go-to workhorse for hauling backyard mulch, barnyard manure, and construction-site cement. They produced YouTube videos promoting humorous uses (hubby hates doing dishes, so he loads them in a wheelbarrow and hoses them off). Soon Ames' major retailers, Home Depot and Lowes, jumped in, promoting the contest among their workers.
Despite the burst of voting since the campaign began though, Bernstein said that at last count, the wheelbarrow was still in a three-way tie for last place with the iron and the boot.
Voting ends Tuesday and the results will be announced the next day.
With the popularity of high-tech games such as Xbox and Wii, it would seem that board games themselves might be in danger of extinction, to say nothing of their old-timey tokens.
Not so, says Erik Arneson, who writes a board-game blog for About.com and says without question that Monopoly -- with its familiar top-hatted mascot, known either as Mr. Monopoly or Rich Uncle Pennybags -- remains the most-played game.
"There has been a resurgence in popularity of board games," said Arneson, who by day is spokesman for State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware). "You may not have one game that captivates national interest like Trivial Pursuit did, but there are more companies making more games than ever before."
Arneson says board games are making a comeback among people who want to interact with other people, not a video screen.
For now, the 1,300 employees of Ames True Temper keep turning out wheelbarrows -- later in the year, they switch over to snow shovels -- while awaiting the final vote.
"Its very suspenseful," said Karen Richwine, director of brand marketing for Ames, which mills its own wood products to make other tools, such as shovels, pitchforks, and rakes. "The wheelbarrow is a staple of America -- like Monopoly, we'd like to keep it alive."
Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.
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