Thursday, May 23, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Robot Hut takes visitors for a trip back in time

The Associated Press

If you go

Getting there: Located about 30 miles north of Spokane, just off U.S. 2. Turn right on Oregon Road and drive for a couple of miles. Museum only open by appointment to groups of six or fewer. Call John Rigg at 509-292-9475.

ELK, Wash. — John Rigg loves Robby the Robot from "Forbidden Planet" and B-9 from "Lost in Space." He loathes C-3PO, but R2-D2 is A-OK.

Such are the passions of Rigg, who moved from Seattle to rural Spokane County a couple of years ago to build a showcase for his collection of 2,500 robots.

"When I do something, I do it right," Rigg said.

On his ranch a few miles off U.S. 2, Rigg built the 2,000-square-foot Robot Hut. Outside there's a 20-foot-tall wooden robot attached to the building. Inside are life-size reproductions of famous robots like Maria from "Metropolis" and Gort from "The Day The Earth Stood Still."

There are rows of robot toys, displayed in custom-built glass cases. They range from square-headed Rock'em, Sock'em Robots to Robocops to Terminators to Atomic Robot Man toys built in Japan in the 1940s. There is a replica of the time machine from the 1960 movie, "The Time Machine," with spinning disks and flashing lights. A toy B-9 speaks in Spanish.

The Robot Hut is open only by appointment to groups of six or fewer people. There are no fire sprinklers or the multiple exits an actual museum would require, Rigg said. But there is a high-tech security system to deter robo-thieves.

Visitors are often impressed.

"I had lower expectations than what I saw," said Mike Moran, 33, of Elk. "I had heard it was just robots in a barn."

He was particularly taken with Rigg's homemade theremin, the electronic musical instrument whose distinctive wailing has been the basis for many science-fiction soundtracks.

"It brings you back to those old outer-space movies," Moran said.

Rigg, 49, began his collection in 1980, when he decided to try to find copies of several different robot toys he enjoyed as a youngster.

"I went to flea markets and garage sales, and by the time I found those five or six robots, I had accumulated 600 others," Rigg said. "I decided there was no reason to stop."

He buys at toy shows, from dealers and off e-Bay, which on a recent day had more than 1,000 robot toys for sale.

Rigg, an electrical designer, also makes exact, working copies of famous robots from movies, often using original blueprints. He has sold some of those replicas for hefty fees.

But he can make only a few of the replicas, as a homage to the originals, because he does not have the business rights to mass-produce them.

"I can spend a year to get the original studio blueprints," Rigg said. "I'll fly to get measurements."

The life-size replicas are uncanny. Robot B-9 turns its body, raises its head and shouts "Danger Will Robinson!" Robby the Robot lights up, moves and talks. Gort's visor slides up.

There are talking models of the sniveling C-3PO and a chirping R2-D2 from "Star Wars."

Rigg built a working replica of the robot car from "Forbidden Planet," including buttons on the floor that turn the vehicle right and left. The only time Rigg drove the car, he crashed into his mailbox.

"The love of Robby and these robots transcends socio-economic boundaries," said Fred Barton, of Beverly Hills, Calif., who owns the rights to make and sell full-sized, working copies of famous movie robots. "You really need a Robby when your friends walk into your office. I've got a nice one here for only $12K."

Rigg does have one unique robot, which features a lifelike cast of his own face, with moving eyes and Dustbusters for feet. He calls it Robo-Rigg.

Rigg grew up in Spokane and moved to Seattle after high school to pursue a career in music. He worked 18 years there, designing a variety of electronic equipment for AEI Music.

Tired of the daily commutes, Rigg decided to move back to the Spokane area three years ago.

He and wife Pam bought a farm in Elk, about 30 miles north of Spokane, where they keep horses. Pam got a job at Costco. Rigg went to work building the Robot Hut.

Pam "has no interest in it whatsoever," Rigg said of his hobby. "She is into horses and animals."

Rigg hasn't tallied how much money he has spent on robots.

"It would be discouraging," he said.

After a private tour of the Robot Hut, there was only one thing to say:

Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto.


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