The Little Company That Did

Surrounded by shelves stocked with 180 different wooden train cars, Sandy Oliver boxes orders at Whittle Shortline Railroad in New London, Mo. (pop. 1,001). Then she stops and picks up a bright blue replica of The Little Engine That Could, reports American Profile.

This is my favorite. I think it has personality,” says Oliver about the beloved storybook character whose positive attitude and “I think I can” spirit help him conquer a mighty hill.

Owner Mike Whitworth likewise has a soft spot for The Little Engine That Could. The engine powered his little company into the national toy market in 2007 after more than a million Thomas the Tank Engine trains, made in China, were recalled because they were coated with lead-based paint. When parents began shopping for safe wooden trains made in the United States, they found Whittle Shortline Railroad.

“Our sales tripled in 30 days,” says Whitworth, recalling how demand for his wooden trains skyrocketed. “We sold out. We had nothing left.”

His little toy company’s sales are projected to total $1.5 million this year, and Whitworth hopes to double his work force by spring.

Like The Little Engine That Could, Whitworth remains optimistic about the future and his company’s American-made toys.

“I’ve never lost sight of our customer,” he says in explaining his company’s success. “It’s a little kid who’s going to chew on the toy.”

Photo by American Profile.

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