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Collector loves those Dancing Hamsters

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 1:35 p.m.
Percy Thomas, an Everson native now living in Uniontown, cuddles one of his prize possessions: a dancing “gopher” who Thomas declares is a “cousin” to Punxsutawney Phil — the famous weather forecaster of Groundhog Day. Laura Szepesi | for the Daily Courier
Punxsutawney Phil may be well known for his weather forecasting, but his wee “cousins” who “live” with Percy and Cathy Thomas of Uniontown are more talented when it comes to dancing, singing and tickling one’s funny bone. Laura Szepesi | for the Daily Courier

At the Thomas residence in Uniontown, every Groundhog Day is overshadowed by furry little critters that look like the wee cousins of Punxsutawney Phil.

That is, if Phil was dressed in a costume and could sing and dance.

Percy Thomas has collected Dancing Hamsters — mechanical miniatures made by Gemmy Toy Company — for 15 years.

His wife, Cathy, bought Percy his first Dancing Hamster (a pizza-making varmint named “Luigi”) because Percy is so proud of his Italian heritage.

“I knew how much Percy loves to collect things,” Cathy said.

Her statement is true. Their home is overflowing with interesting — and varied — collections, including her ceramic Siamese cats, angels and decorated eggs, and his miniature eagles and motorcycles, to name a few.

And those Dancing Hamsters? There are dozens that gyrate and chirp songs so cheerfully that Alvin and the Chipmunks would be green with envy.

All it took was one “performance” by Luigi and Percy was hooked — much like his hamster “D.H.,” who sports a fishing pole and sings the song “Hooked on a Feeling.”

“The music draws ya,” Percy said. “They're a great conversation piece. Plus, the songs bring back so many memories.”

Percy's jovial personality evokes enthusiasm for his funny, furry hobby. He proudly displays his rodent treasures on shelves in his living room, but not randomly.

There's his military hamsters — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Uncle Sam himself.

“Buck ‘n Chuck” plunk out a great rendition of “Dueling Banjos.” A shy-looking bride hamster sings “Goin' to the Chapel” while standing next to her hamster groom.

One dressed in a poodle skirt “Rocks Around the Clock,” accompanied by Elvis the Hamster who warns you not to step on his “Blue Suede Shoes.” And don't mess with the hamster wearing a headband: he's “Kung Fu Fighting!”

Each Dancing Hamster has a tag on its ear with its name and a saying.

Picking up “Luigi,” Cathy read its tag: “Hamsters need plenty of love and Luigi makes it easy for you.” Luigi, who sings Dean Martin's famous “That's Amore,” and “Guiseppe,” are Percy's first — and favorite — of his enormous crooning collection.

Although the name Thomas doesn't sound Italian, Percy's roots hail from “The Boot.” His mother was a Davis; the family Americanized their name when they immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

Recalling ‘Uncle Frankie'

Percy was raised in Everson, just across the bridge from his uncle Frankie Davis's barbershop.

“I grew up in that barbershop helping Uncle Frankie,” said Percy, 69, who met Cathy in the late 1970s when they worked together at the former Volkswagen factory near New Stanton.

Frankie Davis, who passed away in 2012, was a Scottdale icon who clippered, cut and shaved customers at his little corner shop for more than half a century.

When Volkswagen closed in 1985, Percy retired and Cathy, a Dawson native, worked at Liken Medical Service in Uniontown. The couple moved to Uniontown more than 20 years ago.

Cathy is now disabled but still feisty and Percy keeps himself busy; his hamsters are only one hobby of many. He admits it's tough to keep the couple's 10 grandkids from playing rough with his furry critters.

“They're collector's items, after all,” he said about his collection. But he shares them, especially with the youngest, who is only 2 years old.

“We also have one great-grandchild and one on the way,” Cathy interjected.

He's ‘All Right'

Percy's Dancing Hamster collection is the perfect backdrop for Goundhog Day, especially since the Thomases faithfully watch the 1993 “Groundhog Day” movie starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. They'll also be tuned into the local news reports when Phil makes his forecast in Punxsutawney.

Come Feb. 2, Percy's Dancing Hamsters are overshadowed by two other furry “creatures”: Percy's gophers that dance and sing the “I'm All Right” song from the 1980 classic comedy “Caddyshack” starring Rodney Dangerfield.

“OK, so they're gophers, not groundhogs — but they sure look like groundhogs,” Percy said, laughing. “We pretend they're Punxsutawney Phil's cousins every Feb. 2.”

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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