It seems fitting on Independence Day to feature a conversation with our resident Craft-O-Tron machine, Tronny, who sits at the front of the restaurant and features fabulous $5 handmade crafts from local, independent artists. Tronny has been with us for well over a month now and has become part of the Franktuary family. His friend and keeper Lynne keeps him stocked with a variety of whimsical and useful items, and promptly answers any phone calls if your $5 bill gets stuck. At the moment you can purchase a ring featuring a tiny platter of pierogi and peas, a tube of salve for summer wounds and bug bites, several types of necklaces, a crocheted pierogi pin, various robot themed items, and much more.
So Tronny, let’s get to know you. Where are you from and what do you do?
I was manufactured by the National Vending Company in 1971. My original invoice is still plastered inside of me. I was part of a vending operation in central Pennsylvania, and I spent nearly 4 decades in a smoke-filled bar, selling cigarettes and matches until the price for a pack reached my limit to accept it. All of that smoke did a number on my internal mechanical workings; I can’t imagine it was much good for the people who used me, either!
In the summer of 2010 I found myself in an old barn in Hanover, PA, between a table-top Tetris game and a beat-up jukebox. I was listed on eBay and sold for $200. I was transported to Pittsburgh and fitted with a new bill-taker that would allow me to accept $5 bills. I was given a fantastic external makeover and a thorough internal cleaning. A new sign was created just for me by artist Kathryn Carr of Go Carr Go, and I became the Craft-O-Tron: dispenser of local handmade goods. I was back in business! These days, I’m a one-stop shop for awesome Yinzer-made goods at just $5 a plunk! I have 22 knobs, with a different item in each slot. My caretaker Lynne keeps me filled with the good stuff! She even makes some of the items — like the leaf necklaces — herself. She’s always finding new items from crafters she meets at local shows — like the nomadic I Made It! Markets — and through my Facebook page. No more smokes for this machine!
What’s the strangest item you’ve ever sold? The most popular?
I love strange items! Among my favorites: the Unlucky Doll Keychains, which are made from the arms and legs of Barbie Dolls. They are very popular. Items come and go in the machine. Perennial favorites are the crocheted pierogies and the Teeny Kreepy Dolls. People of all ages love my great crafts in small boxes. That gives me a warm feeling in my gears and sprockets.
Tell me about some of the other locations you’ve visited.
Oh! I have been all over! One of the first spots that took a chance on me was the Tin Front Café in Homestead. I was new to selling crafts and still needed to tweak the size of my boxes. The nice owners and customers were very patient with me. I have been back a few times since. I love that place! I have been to the Children’s Museum a number of times, and I’ve made stops at quite a few Crazy Mocha locations. I’ve hung out at the Mattress Factory Art Museum on the Northside, and at the ticket booth in the Cultural District during the Three Rivers Arts Festival. This is a wonderful city! People are very friendly; they really care about buying local and supporting the artists who live here. They also recycle the little boxes that the crafts come in. Some boxes have been through me over a dozen times!
Your pal Lynne is very committed to the local arts scene. What’s her background, and why is she such an avid supporter of handmade things?
Lynne has been a crafter for almost as long as I’ve been a vending machine. She is self-taught and loves making mail art. She used to create primitive art dolls and now designs jewelry with a sense of humor. Her work uses all sorts of things, like flea market finds, thrifted nonsense, and clay leaves. Lynne loves sharing her excitement about what people in Pittsburgh are creating! She’s always so happy when she’s filling my slots to the top with handkerchiefs, cat toys, earrings, wooden puzzles, and Burgh magnets with Pittsburghese words like “Jeet?” and “Jagoff.”
If you could hang out and vend at any location in the world, where would you choose to go?
Wow! I have been to some pretty amazing places. I’ve discovered that the best stuff is often pretty close to home. I would love to vend at the Andy Warhol Museum.
What’s your next stop in Pittsburgh?
I pretty much play it by ear and don’t make long-term plans. Something always seems to happen; a connection is made, an opportunity knocks, and I move on to my next location. Lynne has developed a serious addiction to the Pittsburgh dog and the Red Star kombucha on tap at Franktuary. This has been a great stop for both of us! Thanks for everything! The response from your customers to my wares has been fabulous!
Keep up with Tronny on Instagram @pghcraftotron and see what new items are being stocked by visiting him on Facebook.