Mike Adair’s wife reports that he sleepwalks more when he’s in the middle of designing a toy. Adair, a 44-year-old artist from Overland Park, Kan., works at Hallmark. In his spare time, he builds brightly colored wooden crank toys in his basement workshop.
Most of his toys employ a hand crank that powers pulley wheels that create animation. The first crank toy he made, “The Debate,” depicts the visceral nature of human disagreement with humor and elegance.
The busts of two men face each other; the one smoking a pipe nods his head slowly, while the other, with a cigarette, shakes his head more vigorously. Using different sizes and shapes of pulley wheels and arm lengths, Adair can generate multiple speeds of action using a single crank.
Growing up in Southern California, Adair loved Disneyland’s animatronic attractions, counting America Sings and Country Bear Jamboree among his favorites: “Great examples of animatronic genius!” His family made a pilgrimage to the park every other year, and his parents raised money for the visits by participating in neighborhood craft shows.
“They worked all year making things to sell,” Adair remembers. “My dad cut out wood shapes and my mom did tole painting.” With his crafty parents and fascination with animatronics, Adair’s artistic inclinations were fed from a young age. As an adult, he visited London’s Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, which inspired him to begin building crank-animated toys.
His approach to coming up with toy ideas varies; he’s found it easiest to begin with the mechanics and build the concept afterward, but he’s learning to work both ways. “As my mental mechanism library increases, I’m able to come at it from the concept side and find the mechanism to carry it out,” he says.
In addition to building toys, Adair draws a comic for Boys’ Life magazine and hopes to make a pop-up book. For his next crank toy, he’s finishing a zombie cow tromping through a graveyard, called “Night of the Living Cud.” When the cow opens its decaying mouth, a canned “moo” will escape.
Crank Animations in Action: mikeadair.com/Toys.htm