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Robot Has Long-Distance Affair

December 25, 1989

CHRISTOPHER, Ill. (AP) _ Each month Jim Barclay’s robot, Toby, receives a love letter full of yearning from a mysterious girlfriend as she travels the country.

Nobody has seen the girlfriend called Jodi, but her letters arrive about once a month bearing postmarks from all over. Sometimes she even takes the robot along.

Barclay, a practical joker himself, doesn’t know who’s behind the elaborate scheme that began with the robot’s arrival last Christmas at the Rea Clinic in this southern Illinois town of 3,000.

″I don’t want to know whose doing it,″ he said. ″I’m having a ball out of it.″

Barclay, a printer and maintenance worker at the clinic, said he came to work one morning and found the foot-high, gold-toned, plastic robot in his chair.

An accompanying note read: ″Jim, maybe Toby can work the second shift and help catch up. Santa.″

Barclay said his wife, Margene, and each of the clinic’s 50 employees denied any involvement. So began the string of 19 love letters, gifts and even Toby’s temporary disappearance.

Every month to six weeks, another card comes to the clinic for Toby, Barclay said.

″When we get a card everybody at the clinic gets excited,″ Barclay said recently.

The letters have come from as far away as Eagle, Colo., and Tampa, Fla.

″That one we got from Florida, it was a tear-jerker. I sat here and tears came to my eyes. He was standing over there doing nothing,″ Barclay said, nodding in Toby’s direction in mock disgust.

Toby walks and plays a programmed message but doesn’t do much else around the shop, Barclay said.

The postmarks give clues about Jodi’s travels, but the gifts and disappearances have confused him.

Barclay came to work one morning and Toby was gone, replaced by a note saying the robot was with Jodi. A week later, Barclay arrived at work to find Toby back along with a note saying the robot and Jodi had enjoyed a trip to Wisconsin. Wisconsin cheese in the refrigerator was for Barclay, the note said.

The intrigue continued in September when Jodi and Toby took off to Wausau, Wis., and spent a week at the Marshfield Clinic, a regional rural health center, Barclay said.

When Toby reappeared, he was accompanied by a note from a Dr. Paul Stamer declaring the robot to be in fine health.

But employees at the health clinic said Stamer doesn’t exist, Barclay said.

As Christmas approached, the Barclays nearly decided to take Toby home because of concerns that Jodi would take him away for good during the holiday weekend. They decided against it.

″We don’t want to interfere with their love life,″ Barclay said.

Their trust was rewarded.

In a Christmas card with the usual confessions of love from Jodi and a message for Barclay to look in an old car at his home.

Inside the car was a plaster elephant painted gold - Barclay collects toy elephants - and a 15-pound ham with a tag wishing the couple Merry Christmas from Jodi and Toby.

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