Corvallis’ Hobby Culture: Why We’re a Regional Hub for Tinkerers, Engineers, and Fun-Seekers

Jim Trump, of Trump's Hobbies; photo by Ygal Kaufman
Jim Trump, of Trump’s Hobbies; photo by Ygal Kaufman

When Jim Trump opened a hobby shop 43 years ago, he sold radio controlled (RC) planes out of a little place he started with $500. Trump’s Hobbies is now a full service shop dealing in RC planes, helicopters, cars, trucks and boats, games, crafts, models, tools, and basically anything that could be considered a toy for kids “8 to 88.” It’s one of the rare true all-around hobby shops.

Thanks to Corvallis’ beautiful open spaces, hobby enthusiasts flourish and flock to the area. This allows a fading American tradition to thrive in an unlikely cradle, ye olde strip mall.

There’s a combination of reasons the Corvallis hobby scene is doing so well.

“There’s no laws governing where you can fly,” Jim says with a serious expression.

Trump's Hobbies; Photo by Ygal Kaufman
Trump’s Hobbies; photo by Ygal Kaufman

That’s certainly one reason RC planes are so popular in Corvallis. The Benton County RC Club meets frequently to race planes at Brian Unwin field at the Aerodrome in Adair Village. But you can see the planes flying elsewhere around the city, over farms and fields.

A look around Jim’s shop makes one’s imagination swell with possibility. There are whole walls of vintage model kits, Dremel tools, planes hanging from every ceiling panel, a glass case full of variously sized motors for RC planes, games, figures, paints, parts, toys, transmitters, batteries, kits and collectables.

“I’ve got 250cc gas-powered engine planes,” he says, starting to grin more. To put that in perspective: lower-end motorcycles or higher-end scooters are 250cc. Put that in a radio controlled plane and you get something… awesome.

That’s what’s at the heart of RC plane flying. The love of awesomeness.

But it can be an expensive hobby, especially if you want to get good at it and really have fun. Jim started flying when he was a little kid, nine or ten.

Model trains
Model trains

“You have to be obsessed,” he laughs. “To be like that little kid you see on YouTube, you have to put in hundreds of hours.” He’s referring to the popular videos of nine-year-old kids making planes and helicopters do things you didn’t think were possible.

To get that good, you can also try using the popular Real Flight simulator series, which allows you to use a transmitter (remote control) just like you’d use with an RC plane to control a variety of realistically modeled airplanes and helicopters on your computer. It’s designed by Knife Edge software here in Corvallis.

In the rest of the country, the hobby industry has had a rough go over the last several years, with shops in most towns going out of business. Industry reporting groups hobby shops with toy and game stores, but it shows that the industry is rapidly shrinking as Internet sales and access to direct cheap goods from China is killing off the stores. Especially the ones that aren’t chains. Of the nearly $22 billion in revenue from hobby, toy, and game sales, 91 percent of it went to three firms: ToysRUs, Walmart, and Target.

Trump's Hobbies; photo by Ygal Kaufman
Trump’s Hobbies; photo by Ygal Kaufman

Corvallis supports several hobby shops of varying types, and has even become a hub for the region for people looking for a specific quality of shop like Trump’s. Jim gets customers from Northern California up through Washington seeking out Trump’s. One of the reasons is that aside from constantly expanding his stock, Trump’s has been on the edge of new trends in hobbies and games. Magic: The Gathering is the wildly popular collectible card game that changed the face of gaming when it was released 20 years ago. Since then it has become a mainstream phenomenon, unlike Dungeons & Dragons or a lot of the other popular role playing, adventure games, and board games, and is sold in every store that carries toys or games. Trump’s was one of the first stores in the country to sell the cards, and used to attract hungry Magic acolytes from up and down the coast who couldn’t find the cards anywhere. They had to limit the numbers of boxes people could buy.

Aside from Trump’s in the Timberhill Shopping Center on Kings Boulevard, Corvallis also has several other hobby havens:

Rotary Motions, on Circle Boulevard, specializes in RC planes and helicopters.

Pegasus Games on 4th Street specializes in board games, card games, and miniatures.

Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics on Buchanan has games and comics and hosts a variety of Magic: The Gathering events.

Having all those shops doing well in one town is a truly impressive thing.

The hobby culture is a warm and inviting type of thing. Always open to new members, hobby stores that succeed have guys like Jim behind the counter, always happy to demonstrate, chat about planes, or educate a new prospect. That’s no small thing, as a lot of these hobbies require a great deal of work and practice. People not in the know can get duped by inferior products, which is why a strong hobby shop culture is great for everyone.

“We can get parts, we sell simulators, we’ve got tools, paints, whatever you need. And we won’t sell you garbage.” That strategy should promise to keep Corvallis one of the hobby hot spots in the Northwest for a long time to come.

 By Ygal Kaufman



Drones Vs. RC Flying

Drones drones drones, or so the headlines have repeated over the last several years. With all manner of governments, as well as many US States, seeking to ban private drone use, there is a direct legal threat to the ability for private citizens to operate, build, maintain and fly their own FPV (first-person view) drones and model aircraft.

RC Drone
RC Drone

Part of the threat seen here is the obvious: bad guys using these devices to spy or deliver disastrous payloads, but the other part is just your garden variety accident. There have been quite a few instances (although nothing major) of unwary rc pilots actually colliding their vehicles with full sized aircraft, complete with FAA investigations.

While nobody wants anyone’s fun or engineering interest ruined, the need for regulations seems reasonable. That said, with knee-jerk drone laws being tested as we speak, the change that one or more will adversely affect this awesome hobby without good reason is high.

One such solution that may go a long way towards helping future problems is an invention by Bruce Simpson, an electronics engineer that runs the reputable The “Sense and Avoid System” is a circuit board that can be added to any FPV RC aircraft that will “automatically detect if there is approaching full-sized aircraft or other threat.” Initially it will alert the operator, and if no action is taken will then proceed to take over the craft and steer it to safety automatically.

 By Johnny Beaver