June 7, 2016
By Audrey Fraizer
The 13,500-plus toy ambulances neatly arranged on shelves in glass cabinets in Austria is more than a hobbyist’s collection; they represent an amazing stroll through EMS history and a remarkable talent for finding obscure and unique pieces lost to time.
Take, for example, the tin penny toys made in Nuremberg, Germany, dating back to the turn of the 20th century. The tiny toys (think the size of Park Bros. Monopoly pieces) survived in fine shape through two world wars, eventually finding their way to the hands of toy ambulance holders Dr. Susanne Ottendorfer and her husband, Siegfried “Sigi” Weinert; together they set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records.
“The fun is in the search,” Ottendorfer said. “I’m on eBay a lot.”
The “a lot” is relative, considering the pace the couple keeps. Ottendorfer heads the prehospital EMD department at the county hospital in Moedling and, also, serves as the medical director of 144 Notruf Niederösterreich, the government-owned dispatch center for the state of Lower Austria. Weinert works in the back office of the same center and as a volunteer paramedic.
The professional backgrounds, however, go a long way in explaining their joint obsession. Their careers are invested in the Austrian Red Cross, the main EMS provider in Austria, and as happens to enthusiasts, a first find led to another, and there starts a collection.
Weinert was actually the instigator, having a small collection on his shelves when he married Ottendorfer 17 years ago. A few years later, the doctor caught the toy ambulance collection bug, although deciding to keep her models separate on a shelf in her office.
A friendly competition ensued. No doubt there was a time when they were bidding against each other at auctions, racing to be among the first at an antique toy show, and sorting through the tables of toys at the local flea markets.
Eventually, they called a truce or, rather, both were running out of space on their respective collection shelves, forcing the inevitable. They merged their collections and moved the entire shop to specially made glass-fronted cabinets.
And that’s when they realized the marriage was long-lasting.
Their models come from countries all over the world, probably with some bread crumbs to the places they have visited in professional- and pleasure-driven capacities. They trade with other collectors, unwrap toy ambulance packages from under the Christmas tree, and, despite a collection so large and comprehensive, remain in a state of constant discovery.
So, that’s the real fun of their pursuit.
“We’re learning all the time,” Weinert said. “Putting the toys together shows you the influence of EMS and ambulances to society and the evolution of the ambulance.”
This is also something they enjoy doing together. They like looking at their unique collection and showing it to others. Their collecting habits are complementary. Each ambulance is numbered and catalogued and arranged according to country, continent, and manufacturer. Between the two of them, they know the breadth of their collection and the missing pieces, so to speak.
While they are not apt to putting the brakes on collecting any time soon, there is one question that stymies even the most ardent collectors through the ages: Who does the dusting?
See their collection at www.ambulancecollector.com or join them at www.facebook.com/ambulancecollectorcom-1450588028492287/.