Standing around a bonfire with friends recently, Dane Scarborough was queried about his day . . . what creation had he conjured up?
Surprisingly, for Scarborough, none was the answer. But the day wasn’t over yet, and the blaze before him sparked an idea—an artificial log that could emit UVA rays so people could get a tan in the winter.
Outlandish? Maybe. Impossible? You never know, he insists.
“I did it kind of as a joke,” Scarborough recalls. “But really, in the initial creative process, you can’t limit anything. I look at things and imagine the possibilities.”
Welcome to Scarborough’s world, where wild thoughts are welcome, indeed. In fact, it seems harder for the 50-year-old Scarborough to stop the flow of thoughts and ideas—a gift that has led him on a varied path that has included stints as a punk rock drummer, artist, teacher and businessman.
And now toymaker extraordinaire.
Scarborough’s latest invention is Überstix, a unique building system that can be used alone but also intermixed with others on the market as well as ordinary items.
Überstix represents Scarborough’s belief in imagination and commitment to community. And it’s a lot of fun—
another Scarborough priority.
Sold online, through catalogs and hundreds of stores, Überstix consists of eight plastic parts—lochub, I-stix, cubstix, quark, birhub, bottleneck, pirate stix and popstix.
There are packaged building systems such as Überbots, a robotic system, the ÜberArc architectural series, ÜberPult, a catapult system and ÜberDragon, ÜberCrab, ÜberFrog and ÜberBat, no explanation necessary. But Überstix are designed to go beyond any specific structure—way beyond. Scarborough wants kids to stretch their imaginations with Überstix and work on their engineering and mechanical skills. Pick up a Popsicle® stick and use it to link Überstix parts to build a bridge, make a swingset, lay some railroad track.
“That’s what I wanted to do, design a system that could integrate with Popsicle® sticks and go from there,” he says, explaining that they are such a cheap and abundant item.
Straws, egg cartons, plastic bottles, paper cups and other recyclables can be used, along with paper clips, O rings, and other toys. And, yes they even snap together with Legos pieces.
“For me, this is such a kick, contemplating all the different approaches,” says Scarborough.
In fact, Scarborough’s newest creation is the Scavenger series. The kit won’t come with all the complete parts; the builder will have to scavenge for certain items to finish the model.
But the building system, made partially out of recycled materials, also was designed with the economically disadvantaged in mind.
A child with little money can buy just a few Überstix and use other items to expand his toy chest, rather than being forced to continue buying new products each time one project is finished. Just take apart the old one and start something new.
There often are challenges laid out for the toys.
With the popular Überbot kits, kids are challenged to build robots and then test them out against each other. If an Überbot is knocked over in battle, the challenge is to build a better bot and test it out again.
Whatever the creation, it should work, Scarborough notes. Planes should fly, boats should float, animals should move.
“It’s a whole lot more fun that way.”
Step inside Scarborough’s main studio in Hailey and one quickly gets an idea of the seemingly endless possibilities Überstix provides.
Colorful creations fill the floor space—a tower reminiscent of the Empire State Building, a giant windmill, a whimsical Ferris wheel, a sleek pyramid.
And while Überstix is meant to challenge children’s imaginations and cultivate a sense of mechanical intuition, Scarborough has even higher hopes for the toy system.
“I want to initiate dialogue and thought between kids and their parents. I want to inspire interaction that is creative, substantive and meaningful,” he says. Scarborough gets a lot of inspiration from his family: wife, Leslie, who is an actress (under the name Leslie Huntly), and sons, Hunter, 17, and Dashel, 9. In fact, the idea for Überstix was cultivated at home.
Playtime can get pretty serious at the Scarborough household, where the “boys” have built all kinds of toys—just never the model that’s pictured on the box. Elaborate cities were erected and cars equipped with suspension systems were raced down the stairs—with the winner being the one that stayed upright all the way down. >>>
“It’s a lot more interesting than building some preset model that you then set on the shelf,” Scarborough says.
Überstix appeals to boys far more than girls, he acknowledges. Girls comprise less than 5 percent of the overall construction toy market, and his product is really no different, though girls have been interested in the Animal Kingdom series.
“I think the Animal Kingdom series bridges the gender gap.”
Before Überstix, Scarborough was working for Rubbermaid. He had sold his Company, Levelution, LLC, which produced a patented, segmented level system he designed, to Rubbermaid in 2003 and took a job with the company as a new product consultant.
That job lasted about a year. >>>
He liked the company, but found that it moved too slowly for him.
“I like to make things happen and I like to make things happen quickly,” he says.
“I was bored. For me, it was a boring job. I like more of a challenge,” he said. “I took six months and got into total creative mode.”
He needed to decide what he really wanted to do next.
Inventors don’t always make the best business people, he explains. By nature, they are creative souls who relish exploring every path, but they tend to lack the discipline of a business person to see things to fruition.
A good invention comes from inspiration and passion, he notes, but there also has to be a market for it. A good invention is NOT born out of a desire for a paycheck.
“I’m not the first person to say this, but when you do what you love, the money comes,” Scarborough says.
The Überstix idea won out in large part because of the size of the toy industry and its unquenchable thirst for new ideas.
“And you get to be like Santa Claus,” he says. “How amazing is that? You make so many kids happy.”
And it was original, another plus.
“I’m not interested in doing something that I’ve seen done before,” he explains.
Überstix has become a popular pastime for some area youths, and it will be a learning tool for architectural students this fall at Wood River High School.
Teacher Kevin Lupton will use Überstix’s architectural series in his architecture class. He knows the product well, having worked with Scarborough on developing authentic blueprints for two structures in the series, including the Lupton Tower.
“He’s a free-thinking nut and that’s in a good way,” Lupton says.
Working with Scarborough is a delight because he is so optimistic. He also can be a bit of a workaholic, a phrase Scarborough also uses to describe himself.
“When you work with him he can be pretty demanding, but it’s fun because he’s so positive,” Lupton says. There are no problems, just issues to solve. Tempers aren’t lost and patience runs long.
Scarborough also is a member of Lupton’s advisory committee for the high school’s architectural and mechanical design academy, a four-year program.
“The kids love him. He’s kind of a kid himself,” Lupton says.” He listens to the students. He comes in (to the classroom) dressed like a kid!”
It seems the seeds for Überstix were planted early, when Scarborough, then Dane Buwalda, was a young boy in Los Angeles. He lived mostly with his maternal grandparents for the first seven years of his life. Mom worked as a stunt woman and his father left when he was born.
His grandmother, Crystal Scarborough, operated a swim school and was an early pioneer in teaching babies to swim, including her own grandson, who was put in the water when he was five days old.
“I could swim before I could walk.” His grandfather, John Scarborough, nurtured his grandson’s inventive side. Later, Dane Buwalda took his grandfather’s last name when he had his first son.
“When we’d go out to the garage to create something, it was always an adventure.”
Kites weren’t bought, they were made. Toys were boxes of scrap wood that grandfather brought home.
Scarborough remembers his first big project was constructing a ladder, all on his own. He used it to climb his home’s six-foot wall, equipping it with a rope so he could pull it up and slide it down the other side to the freedom that was West L.A.
“I felt very accomplished,” he remembers. “I quickly climbed back over!”
He never told his family about his little adventure. >>>
Scarborough played the drums in an elementary school band. After graduating from high school, he studied marine biology, became a certified scuba diver, took some other classes.
He also played drums in several bands, including the metal rock group London, which he was a member of from 1978 to 1980. As a band member, he was known as Dane Rage.
“It was a band of five alpha males,” he says.
The alpha males called it quits when band member Nikki Six refused to sign a record deal. Nikki Six later put together Mötley Crüe, but Scarborough was not a member.
At age 30, Scarborough went back to school at the Santa Monica College of Design, Art and Architecture, graduating in 1992.
The portfolio that got him into the school consisted of “functional art,” i.e., furniture. One piece was something he had created for an Earth Day event. The “diaper chair solution” had a hermetically sealed cushion made of used, disposable diapers that generated its own heat.
“It really was the most gross thing you’ve ever seen,” he says. “But it really was comfortable—and warm.”
He and his family moved to Hailey some 15 years ago. (Scarborough notes that remembering exact dates is not one of his strengths.)
“Because I couldn’t afford Sun Valley,” he jokes.
Scarborough didn’t want his son, Hunter, going to school in Los Angeles, where they were living. He wanted him to attend Hemingway Elementary because he thought it was such a great school.
When he and his family first came to Hailey, Scarborough taught life drawing classes. He was represented by the Friesen Gallery, his work primarily consisting of life drawings and monoprints.
Überstix occupies a lot of his time these days, and he has even bigger plans for his toy company. He plans to launch the toy line overseas in Europe in spring 2008, and Scarborough envisions a comic book with Überstix characters that could turn into a Saturday morning show.
He wants to develop characters and story lines that are educational and philosophical, stories with a lesson, much like the “Star Trek” and the “Twilight Zone” series.
“Those shows had a lesson. They gave you something to think about,” he says.
Scarborough often mulls ideas over coffee. When he’s in town, he comes in at least once a day to Zaney’s River Street Coffee House, says owner Sue Martin. His drink? A Mocha Diablo, a spicy chocolate concoction and a Zaney’s specialty.
“I think Dane is one of the most refreshing people I’ve ever known,” Martin says. “He puts passion in everything he does.”
Martin says Scarborough strikes a balance between “genius, compassion and positive intentions. He puts all of that into his creations,” she says. “He wants his toys to be affordable and children to be unlimited in their creativity.”
Martin also mentions his “strong person presence.”
Scarborough is tall, standing 6-foot-4, and handsome, with Paul Newman-blue eyes. On this hot summer day, he has just returned from L.A. and he looks the part in jeans, boots, a black shirt, silver bracelet and uber-cool reading glasses.
He is intense, and claims he’s an engineer at heart who is no good at parties.
But Martin says he is a kind and approachable man.
“Kids who come into the coffee house will go up to him while he’s working, and he’s always available to talk to them,” she says.
Scarborough shows them what he’s working on and gives them free Überstix samples.
Zaney’s employees—teenagers—adore him as well because he listens to them, she adds. “He honors what they’re interested in and what they want to talk about.”
“He does exemplify Hailey. He’s interesting. He’s creative. He’s involved. He’s always looking for some way to benefit society.”
Scarborough also was one of Zane Martin’s favorite people.
Zane, 21, died a year ago in a motorcycle accident. His mother fondly reflects on a particular day at the coffee house when her son and Scarborough were talking. After their discussion, Zane walked up to his mom, gave her a hug and said, “This (knowing Scarborough) is one of the reasons I love having this coffee shop.”