Category Archives: toys

How Did We Know What Was Going On Back Then?

My wife and I were driving down the road today talking about various things when we got to discussing making a “junk journal” for the kids. I have a lot of crazy stuff that I have held onto through the years. Some of it looks like nothing to the untrained eye, but to those in the know, there are stories and history in these various items. I have an old pill tin that my dad carried around with him. I have a pocket knife that he won for my mom and that she carried around with her from then on. To my kids these items are just a small green tin and a pocket knife. They don’t understand the family history attached to these pieces. I also have books and toys that have a special place in my life or DVDs that are out of print and worth a pretty penny. These are things the kids need to know before boxing all this stuff up and taking it to Goodwill after they put me six feet under.

The fact of the matter is that none of them have the attention span to remember everything about all of this mess. There’s also the problem with me forgetting lots of details as well. For example, I can’t remember what it was that Dad used to carry in that tiny pill tin. I remember Mom telling me about it, but I can’t remember the full story. Since Mom passed away several years ago I can’t ask her any longer. My sister or my cousin might remember, but I need to get the facts down where the kids can find it when my time finally comes to an end. Of course they will also have to wait for my wife to pass before they truly get to run free with my things but never the less.

So in the midst of this conversation I mentioned to my wife about how certain toys were special to me growing up. The Mego Planet of the Apes action figures were some of my favorites. I had the full set of them and their accessories. Most of the expensive pieces were Christmas gifts left under the tree by Santa or given to me by my Aunt EI. The actual figures however were ones that I got at Kmart and Murphy’s Mart and Hecks department stores. There were two waves of the action figures as I recall. The first batch was based on the movie. The second batch was based on the television series. I still remember playing at my Aunt Tress’ one day as a kid, and it just came to me that the new figures should be out. One of my cousins might have seen them and mentioned it or it might just have been a psychic premonition, but I begged me mom to stop on the way home. She agreed to stop and sure enough there they were.

When the Kenner Star Wars action figures actually came out (my mom refused to buy me the Early Bird IOU that was offered) we just ran into them in the store. I think the first ones we bought might have actually come from Krogers grocery store in Saint Albans. The thing was, I didn’t have the Internet to tell me these things were coming out. We didn’t have toy magazines to prepare us for new toys and toy lines. We found out the old-fashioned way; we bumped into them.

Sometimes I learned about new toys by ads in my comic books. I remember the big two page spread for the Haunted Mansion action model kids or the Strange Change models. I recall ads for Evel Knievel, the Six Million Dollar Man, and lots of different cars and bikes like Hot Wheels and Matchbox. Today kids and collectors know exactly when each wave of the new action figures are going to start shipping. They know which figures are going to be hard to locate and eBay helps make that search easier as well. Some how this just doesn’t seem as exciting as going into the toy department and finding the new additions to the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes model kit line. Silly as it sounds, I think I liked our way best.

We Didn’t Have Warning Labels

I was looking through a box of junk with my wife the other day. The box was about the size of a shoe box and it was filled with old bubble gum machine, Cracker Jack, and cereal box prizes. When I was a kid everything seemed to have a free prize. There were drinking glasses given away inside of boxes of laundry detergent, your Esso fill up got you a spiffy puzzle featuring a scene from America’s history, and your breakfast cereal came with a toy (or a record album that you clipped off the back of the cereal box).

One of the toys we found in the box was an aircraft carrier. It was really cool. It was two to three inches long and had a rubber band inside that launched the tiny little aircraft off the ship’s deck. Can you imagine anyone putting such an item inside of a cereal box these days? First off the planes were so small they could easily be swallowed. Secondly they could be launched.

Toys with launching rockets were a staple of my childhood. The Shogun Warriors and Micronauts all had rockets, fists, or some other part that would shoot off of the toy and fly through the air before smashing into the bad guy or an obstacle like a wall. Our biggest fear was losing these small parts if they launched and rolled into a crack in the floor or got lost in the grass. All of this changed after one four-year old kid shot a toy missile into his mouth and choked to death. Suddenly toys could no longer contain spring-loaded launching mechanisms. Eventually any toy with a part that might possibly fit inside a child’s mouth had to be given a warning label that it contained a potential choking hazard. But keep in mind this aircraft carrier that I played with wasn’t sold as a toy to begin with. It was packed inside of a plastic bag and placed inside of a box of cereal that was sold for children to eat. If a cereal company attempted this today they would need a warning label the size of a Buick on the box and even then some parent would still end up suing them.

A decade or so back Nestle tried selling a product called a Nestle Magic Ball. It was a hollow plastic ball that split into two halves and contained a Disney toy inside of it. It was like a plastic Easter egg. The difference was that the ball was covered in chocolate, so the child would eat the chocolate and then open the ball and find the toy surprise. The product was quickly removed from the market only to be replaced by the infinitely inferior Nestle Wonder Ball which switched out the toy for some hard candy. Even Cracker Jack doesn’t have decent prizes any longer. All of the prizes are paper based and pretty lame even at that.

The only prize delivery system that still seems to operate with anything resembling what it was back in the good old days appears to be the gumball machine. The prices are significantly higher these days, but the prizes are still something that a child of today can drop inside a shoebox and look back on fondly twenty to thirty years from now. Some of the prizes are actually pretty cool. There is a series of rubbery animal pencil toppers that are cute and collectible. Homies can still be found in some machines. About a year or two ago Freaky Geeks showed up in several machines locally. I’ve also noticed tiny Domo figures. I’m sorry that lawsuits have ended the days of cool food premiums (unless you want to talk Happy Meal prizes), but at least I know my fifty cents can still get a decent gumball prize. Of course when I was a kid those gumball machines were a penny, a nickel, or a quarter, but when it comes to prices, truly nothing ever stays the same.

I Don’t Remember Buying That

Over the last few weeks we have moved over ninety boxes of toys from the old house to the new house. Some of them contain items I remember fondly such as my Mego Planet of the Apes dolls or old Star Wars toys. Some of the boxes contain toys that I recall buying, but that aren’t nearly as special to me. For example I have a couple or six boxes full of Simpsons action figures and a few Simpsons playsets as well. I bought the Android’s Dungeon comic shop playset because it was a comic shop and had the exclusive Comic Book Guy action figure. Of course what good is a playset without a few more figures, so I got Bartman. Then I picked up some other figures and a few more playsets because I wanted a little more diversity in my Springfield. When KB Toys put a bunch of them on sale, I had to buy even more of them. Next thing I knew I had a mini collection of Simpsons toys.

All of those items I remembered buying, but then I ran across the action figures for The Matrix and Austin Powers. Did I actually buy those? I must have because they’re quite clearly in my collection. Maybe they were on sale or clearance and I just couldn’t pass them up. The only problem there is that the price tags don’t seem to indicate this being the case. The Matrix figures appear to have all been purchased for the regular retail price of $9.99.

Finding items like this in my collection is like finding a hidden surprise, but it also hits on another problem. If I don’t remember buying them or having them, how badly would I miss them if I sold them? The Matrix figures all have very nice sculpts, but The Matrix isn’t a touchstone film with me. I enjoyed it, but the only personal milestone I can think of that is tied to it is the fact that it was the first film I saw at the Marquee Cinemas. The theater was having its pre-grand opening and was giving out free admission to celebrate. The wife and I had stopped to purchase tickets for Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace which was scheduled to open that weekend and stumbled into the giveaway promotion. I took the kids to see The Matrix and the wife went to see Shakespeare In Love. It was a fun evening, but nothing that would make me want to hold on to the toys as a reminder of it.

If I would just cut my toy collection down to the toys that actually mean something to me, I could probably make a few bucks selling the other items on eBay. Except when I look for these toys on eBay I run into two situations. Either they aren’t selling at all or they’re selling for so much money that I don’t want to sell them because if I ever decided that I did want them again, I’d never pay the price it takes to get them back. Yes, I have some serious issues with turning loose of things.

Our Computers Were Cardboard With Magic Marker Lights

When I was a kid one of my favorite toys was a computer. It had all the world’s knowledge at its beck and call and could hold intelligent and witty conversations with you. It could do all of that provided that you remembered to turn on your imagination. My computer was actually a part from a plastic model kit of a giant insect attacking a city.

I don’t recall which insect kit it came from as there were four or five different ones and I had them all at one point. The kits included a cardboard backdrop and were really pretty cool. They were also pretty fragile. Some insects had very thin plastic legs. Some of the destroyed cityscapes included downed electrical towers with plastic latticework and thin plastic power lines. Thin and plastic usually meant easily broken. My killer bugs were soon consigned to the trash heaps or sold off in a yard sale to make money to buy more toys and model kits, but this one little plastic building had survived and to my child’s brain looked an awful lot like what I thought a computer should look like. Not the modern laptop or tower system mind you, but the old room size units that had to be fed data on punch cards and reel to reel tape. That was what a computer looked like.

I called this hand-sized chunk of plastic HAAL, like HAL from 2001, but with an extra A. HAAL stood for Hydral Any Answer Litrox. I think I had heard the word hydraulic which inspired the Hydral part and Litrox came from a package that contained a watch I wore at the time. It might have been the name of the company for all I know. HAAL wasn’t the only computer I had a kid either. There were the computers that powered my spaceship. In a previous life they had been shoe boxes, but I added colored lights and switches with magic markers. I had an R2 unit that was an old bucket with a piece of paper wrapped around it and designs drawn on it. I was working on it with a friend and we hoped to make it look just like the one in Star Wars. Sadly it never happened.

I’m not sure why these old computers came to mind today, but I couldn’t help but share them. I think I still have HAAL around here somewhere. I also have all of the old HAAL comic strips that I wrote and drew based on this hunk of plastic. Today kids share YouTube videos and other digital media, but back when I was in junior high school my friends and I all wrote and drew our own comic strips and comic books. I probably created over 100 different HAAL strips. One day the school art teachers took a fellow artist and me to meet a true local cartoonist. We both took some of our work with us. One of the things I took was a collection of HAAL strips. The artist looked over our work and when he got to HAAL he looked at it and commented, “That doesn’t actually look like a computer. It looks more like a building.” Damn it. I forgot to turn on the imagination switch before I showed them to him.

We Had Two Things As Kids

My son grew up in a world with 24/7 cartoons and video games. My daughter was able to add the Internet to her childhood toolkit. When I was a kid we only had cartoons on Saturday morning and perhaps an hour or so early on other mornings and an hour or so with Mister Cartoon after school. Video games, home systems that is, wouldn’t come along until High School. As for the Internet, we were years away from even bulletin boards, much less full-blown websites. We basically had two things as kids: books and our imaginations.

Now don’t get me wrong, we had toys. We had G.I. Joe, Mego, Shogun Warriors, Micronauts, Aurora model kits, and all sorts of other playthings. The difference is that our toys didn’t do anything unless you used your imagination. We could make Biotron fly and Mazinga battle Godzilla, but only through the art of pretending. For those of you too young to understand what this means, we would hold our little Micronaut up in the air and make flying noises with our mouths as we did loops or went running out in a playground with the toy held out and held high. We would take our figures, one in each hand, and have them do battle with one another by beating the two pieces of plastic against each other. One hand would hold the attacking toy while the other hand-held the toy that about to get hit. After a thunderous blow, the other toy would be lifted up and retaliate. Sometimes both hands would move the two toys at each other simultaneously causing both of them to go flying backwards. All sound effects were created by us, and the outcome of the battle was whatever storyline we wanted to tell. Unless one of the toys broke. Then we improvised. “Oh no, Johnny West hit G.I. Joe so hard that his arms both flew off.”

Model kits also required us to use our imaginations, but they did have instruction sheets. I loved figure kits. One of my friends loved car models. Another friend had tons of dinosaur models. You would get a cardboard box with a gorgeous painting of what the kit should look like on the front. Sometimes the sides had actual pictures of professionally assembled and painted kits. When you opened the box there were plastic trees with little numbered parts on them. Usually they were all molded in a single color, normally the dominant color of the figure. The Wolfman would be in brown. Godzilla would be in dark green. Some kits had additional glow in the dark parts or they had clear or chromed parts, especially for cars.

I kept my Aurora kits on my dresser or on a shelf in my closet. In the closet, the glow in the dark parts would light up when I shut the closet door. My friend with all of the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes kits had a special wooden platform in his basement. His dad had made it for him so he could connect their bases and set them up on display like a prehistoric train set. He used to pretend that at bedtime he could talk to them on a toy walkie-talkie that he had. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and swore that one day, I would fix up something like that for myself.

The other thing we had, as I stated, was books. We had comic books, paperbacks, and magazines. Back then everybody seemed to sell comic books. You could buy them at the drug store, the newsstand, bus stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, department stores, and other places as well. I had lots of comics, but it wasn’t until I picked up Kamandi #9 while on vacation at King’s Island that I became a true collector. The front cover showed these people in a hot air balloon fighting giant bats. It looked so amazing that I had to buy it. I bought it, read it, and decided that I would have to find the next issue when it came out. Since I had never seen this book before, I assumed that I was holding the first issue. When I got home, I was shocked to find issue #8 at my local 7-11 (which was literally open from 7 AM until 11 PM at the time). When I realized that I had actually missed the first seven issues, I was shocked and devastated, but I kept looking for them. Eventually I ordered the missing issues from an ad I found for back issues comics by mail. I still have every issue of Kamandi to this day.

We also had paperback books and magazines to entertain us. I’ve mentioned all the monster magazines that I used to buy, but there were other mags as well. Car Toons and Surf Toons featured cartoons about cars and surfing. Marvel and Warren publishing both had black and white comic magazines and there were numerous humor magazines as well. Mad is still around, but there was also Sick, Cracked, Crazy, and the National Lampoon. The Lampoon was a bit more adult, but I still managed to get almost every issue from around #96 up and a local newsagent even sold me a huge collection of back issues which included the very first issue.

Paperbacks also entertained us as kids, and at a fairly bargain rate. I picked up all of the Planet of the Apes books for between 50 and 95 cents each. I also had a bunch of superhero books, Star Trek fotonovels, and other titles. Two of my prized possessions at the time were a pair of oversized hardcovers dedicated to talking solely about horror movies. I always wanted a copy of the Ray Harryhausen Scrapbook, but it was too expensive at the time. I finally picked up a copy years later at a used bookstore and I replaced my copies of the two horror movie books (as well as a third one I picked up later) off eBay. I don’t know why I had gotten rid of my copies in the first place, but I was glad to have them back.

How Much Is Your Childhood Worth?

Yesterday I was discussing several toys from my childhood about which I wished I had more information. Shortly after posting the article I was able to find out what two of the four items were called. Elated to know what these critters were actually called, I quickly hopped on eBay where I found out that those little pieces of plastic and rubber were worth quite a little bit. My little ghost, a Kooky Spooky called Baby Spook Em, was part of a group of four figures that were currently selling for over $120. A new Grandma McCreak still in the box was sitting at $500.

Let me try and make this as clear as I can. All this toy consists of is a little glow in the dark plastic finger puppet of a ghost with a painted on face. They each initially came with a little sign or other accessory, but the set of four, like my own Baby Spook Em, were all missing their signs or whatever. This means that a little finger puppet that vaguely resembles a floating sheet with eyes and a mouth painted on it is selling by itself for about $30. I might pay that for one of these ghosts still in their haunted house display box, but loose and without the sign, I would be hard pressed to go above $5.

The little rubber dungeon men were equally surprising. By the way, quick side note, do not put rubber dungeon men in your Google image search and hope to find these toys. I learned very quickly to use the term prisoners instead. Once I found the little rubber toys, I learned that they were called jigglers and that they also sold for a premium on eBay.

This morning I told my wife about what I had found out and her response was, “Great. Let’s sell yours.” Here’s the problem. I’ve had these toys packed away in the attic untouched for several years. They haven’t been played with or displayed since I was in grade school back in the early seventies. For all intents and purposes if they turned up missing, I wouldn’t even realize it unless I decided to do a search through the boxes of toys to try and locate them. Never the less, the thought of selling them is completely anathema to me. I may not want to spend $127 trying to give Baby Spook Em a family to hang around with, but I’d still rather have my old finger puppet ghost than the $30+ it might bring me on eBay.

So what is your childhood worth? How much would you take for the old treasures of your youth? How much would you pay to get them back? I have replaced several toys that I used to have with ones I found on eBay, and I have replaced some with modern reproductions where the original is extremely pricey and usually missing key accessories. I would love to have some better Major Matt Mason toys, but I know I would never pay the prices that they fetch on eBay. At the same time I would never think about selling my beat up old Major and his buddies even if I was offered $100 each for them as is.

To my mind there is an intangible part of my childhood still trapped inside of these little pieces of plastic. As long as I have them in my possession, my childhood will never completely slip away. The replacements and add-ons that I might pick up are just that. They have none of the magic of my childhood trapped inside of them. They are just pieces of plastic representing something I played with. The exception seems to be when I find a deal at a flea market or yard sale. About 20 years ago I stumbled across a couple of boxes of old model kits at a church yard sale. Some one had cleaned out their son’s old room and donated all of these old built up kits to the church. I bought every one of them, even the duplicates. There was Batman, Frankenstein, some sports kits, a space ship. They had all been assembled. Some had been painted. Many were missing pieces. The thing is you could still feel the love that the previous owner had for these toys. It was infused in the very plastic of these kits. They sold me the whole lot for about $5. I would have paid much much more for them. The kits are all collectible and I could easily make my money back just by selling any one of them, but I won’t. They aren’t just models. They are childhood memories, even if they aren’t mine, and childhood memories are priceless.

What Was That Thing Called?

One of the biggest obstacles that I run across in my nostalgia fueled searches is trying to remember what certain toys were called. I had this problem with the Ding-A-Lings and the Fighting Furies. I still have this problem for the… whatever the hell these four lines of toys were called.

The first toy is a finger puppet ghost. There were several of these and they were all cutesy and carried little plastic signs. They were molded in glow in the dark plastic and had little faces and details painted on as well. I seem to recall them being packed in a box shaped like a haunted house. I have one of these ghosts somewhere in my toy collection. I keep thinking it was called Baby Boo or something like this.

The second toy is a flashlight. Actually it’s a rubber like character with a squeeze activated flashlight inside of it. When you squeeze the monster, his eyes and other things light up. I have a green monster and I believe he had a tooth that lit up in addition to his eyes. There were several other designs. I’m not sure that they were all even monsters.

A third line consisted of plastic men with exaggerated comical faces. There were all sorts of different figures. I recall a judge and a cook. I think there was also a prisoner and several more. The play factor was that the heads were interchangeable as were the hats/hair. Other parts may have snapped on and off as well, but I definitely remember taking the powdered wig off of the judge. I think these figures were released in a package with two to six figures included. My nephews and I all got sets one of the times when we got to go to Whiz. Whiz was the best toy store in the whole world as far as we knew, and it wasn’t just a toy store. That was just the only part we cared about. Whiz was in Huntington, so we only went about once or twice a year (or at least it seemed that way).

The final group of toys were almost more carnival prizes rather than true toys, but we bought them out of a bin at a couple of different toy departments. They were little rubber figures of cartoonish men hung up by chains to an imaginary dungeon wall. They all had a little gold cloth thread like a Christmas ornament would hang from so that they could be hung from a rear-view mirror or some such location. I remember one in a green outfit that looked like something the jolly green giant would wear. One of the guys had a brown shirt and a bald head. Some of them had their tongues hanging out or their faces contorted. There was also a skeleton that hung there with them.

None of these toys were very expensive as I recall. The little rubber figures were particularly cheap and I had a full set of them at one time. I would love to have more information on all of these lines, but it’s nearly impossible to look them up on eBay without knowing what they are called.

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Guess I should have tried again on finding out these names. Turns out the ghost puppets were from Hasbro and were called Spooky Kooky. The rubber prisoners were Jigglers from I believe Jiggler Imperial. The flashlight and interchangeable head toys are still a mystery however.