When I was 11 years old, I was crazy about these toys–the Dr. Seuss Zoo from the model company, Revell. This ad is from Life Magazine in 1959.
The great thing about these was, once you owned several different models, you could mix up the parts any way you pleased and create all sorts of new critters. The parts were interchangeable from kit to kit–a great way to sell lots of kits. The downside was that the little knobs that snapped into holes had a regrettable tendency to snap off.
These toys exercised your imagination–and your hands. Nowadays they’d probably be too advanced even for college students, but kids in 1959 had a lot of fun with them. Oh–you did need the ability to sit quietly in one place for a few minutes while you made what you imagined take shape.
Much better for kids than zombie video games.
Yeah, this is another little piece of life around here that got erased by the orcs. Gone as if it had never been. As if I’d only dreamed it.
Let it be so. At least in my dreams it’s safe from the Developers.
As a little boy, I watched in fascination, and not a little envy, when my aunts sat down to play Monopoly. Joan, Millie, and Gertie, usually with my mother and father joining them–and all that cool stuff going on: I used to poke around Grandpa’s house trying to find the Monopoly board, but could never guess where they’d put it.
I was used to kiddy games like Chutes and Ladders. But this game sounded all grown-up. Railroads! Houses and Hotels! And what exactly was that thing called “Community Chest”? And could that possibly be real money they were tossing around?
Eventually they bought a new Monopoly game and handed down the old game to my cousins, my brother and sister, and me. How intriguing it was, to study all those Rules and figure out how to play the game properly. Our reading comprehension still had some growing up to do, but I’m convinced it grew faster because we were so hot to play Monopoly and we just kept reading and re-reading those rules until we got them right. Or almost right.
Any of those adults could have taken over and taught us how to play, but some rare wisdom told them that it’d be a lot more fun for us if we doped it out for ourselves. It took us longer to learn the game that way, but so what? Working at it until we got it right was great!
I’m afraid that kind of wisdom’s even rarer, nowadays.
But I still love Monopoly, and I still have the game that Grandma gave me for Christmas, long ago. Complete with bills, rules, and cards scotch-taped together where necessary.
When I had to buy and install a new computer monitor yesterday, I was afraid it would turn into a fiasco. But once I opened the box and saw the parts, I discovered the assembly was so simple, even I could do it. In fact, it was just like assembling a plastic model car–a pastime which my brother and I enjoyed many times.
You got a box with a picture on it, which contained a bunch of parts and instructions that we really didn’t need. After all, we knew what cars are supposed to look like. So we put them together, and used our imaginations to customize them with the extra parts provided for that purpose. My father built us a display shelf for the models. One great big hot rod model that we got for Christmas had so many extra parts, we were able to make completely imaginary extra cars out of them. I was even able to create a Martian invasion thingy on long legs made from extra exhaust pipes.
I wonder if kids are still making model cars. It requires an attention span, which is hard to come by nowadays.
In addition to being fun, the skills you pick up in passing just might come in handy, years and years later.
Remember this? Sky King–the only TV Western hero who flew his own airplane, which he called, affectionately, Songbird.
Sky King started as a radio show in 1946 and ran on television from 1951 through 1962–quite long-lived for a TV series. It starred Kirby Grant as Sky King, who always caught the bad guys but never killed them, and Gloria Winters as his niece and co-pilot, Penny. I had kind of a crush on her when I was 11. I wonder if my other girlfriends at the time, Jean Simmons and Lee Remick, ever got jealous.
Anyway, this little clip ought to bring back pleasant memories. It was such a can’t-miss idea–a Western with an airplane–you wonder why it took so long to think of it.
Hey, remember these things? Actually, you’ve got to be a bit on the old side, to have seen them. They were declared a no-no around 1960, although some municipalities and private contractors kept on using them for some years afterward. But you won’t see them anymore–except as curious artifacts for sale here and there.
Not until yesterday did I learn they were called “road construction smudge pots.” As a boy, seeing them along Route 1 as we rode to Grammie’s house, I thought they must be cannonballs. Because, well, they looked like cannonballs. But that flame at the top–maybe they were bombs. There were bombs that looked like that in Farmer Grey cartoons. (Remember those?) They never went off, though, so I was pretty sure they must be cannonballs.
We are told by certain persons who collect these, nowadays, that you have to wear gloves to handle them because they’re just so terribly filthy. Probably leave a carbon footprint that even John Kerry would be proud of. Once upon a time they used to be set up along road construction areas as guides to help keep drivers on the road. Now they’re just collectibles.
Not that I miss the old cannonballs. But I do miss those visits to Grammie, and that’s what I think of when I see pictures of those things.
Sorry about the Disabled Comments! I forgot to take the extra step of disabling the disability.
I only got to see this show if I stayed at my Grammy’s for the weekend; but it’s the kind of show you remember.
For one thing, it had fantastic music: the Paladin theme by Richard Boone and Johnny Western, played above in its entirety, plus background music by Bernard Herrmann, one of the all-time great movie and radio music composers. It had a great star in Richard Boone, compelling stories by a stable of fine writers that included Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, and talented guest directors including William Conrad, Ida Lupino, Sam Peckinpah, and Boone himself. In short, it had everything!
I find this theme song haunts me. Although Paladin was a hired gun, he always sought a peaceful solution first. And he did pro bono work for the poor. I guess you could say he was a real trouble-shooter: he faced the trouble, and shot it.
It takes me back to a better time. I was born into and raised in a world of men and women, not freaks. When we imagined heroes, they were human heroes: not a lot of caped and costumed comic book characters poncing around like fashion models on a runway.
Could we go back to being the people we were then? It wasn’t perfect, but it was a towering sight better than what we’re doing now.
I saw it. I lived it. I know.
And here they are, in glorious wax that broke if you looked at it cross-eyed: the Miller Company’s Space Aliens, vintage 1960. Even back then, someone in the toy world knew what these things looked like. I had a fine collection of them.
Remember this? Vintage 1960s TV, it aired on Sunday night: Branded starred TV workhorse and former National League baseball player Chuck Connors as a soldier falsely charged with cowardice in the face of the enemy, and the evil reputation that followed him wherever he went. A classic TV Western.
We kids had a favorite variation on the theme song:
Stranded! Stuck on the toilet bowl!/ What do you do when you’re stranded, and you don’t have a roll? Nevertheless, a really cool show.
Hey, remember these–slot racing cars?
It’s my brother Mark’s birthday today, the weather is atrocious, and he and I were on the phone reminiscing about our old slot racing cars. He still has our set, vintage 1964; and after a fashion, it still works.
The cars had little pins underneath that kept them fitted to the slots on the track, and metal brushes to pick up the electricity from those white lines you see in the photo; they’re wires. You couldn’t steer the cars, of course, but you could control how fast they went. And you could lay out the track with enough curves to make speed control a kind of art. Do you slow down for the curve, and maybe let the other guy’s car pull ahead? Or do you go for the gusto, and hope the rubber guard rail keeps your car from winding up on the other side of the room?
The cars were only two inches long, tops, and you could customize them by fitting them with tiny racing slicks or fiddling around with the actuator on the inside: that was the thing that went up and down, moving the gear that spun the wheels. We had the first-generation slot racers, the design of which was so simple, even I could understand it.
It was a very simple pleasure, to be sure, compared to the fancy-schmancy electronic toys kids have today. But sometimes it’s the simple pleasures that you remember.