See that beautiful palomino horse, rearing up on his hind legs? It was a popular toy in the 1950s, and I still have mine, and it’s still beautiful. They came in two different poses and several colors. In fact, I still have half a dozen of them. Each one came with a cowboy, a rather fragile saddle (that’s the green thing, and I’m afraid none of my saddles have survived), even more fragile reins and bridles, and a very tiny hat for the cowboy’s head. I still have one of the cowboys, but no hats.
My animal box that my father made for me is full of plastic horses of all different shapes and sizes. Like a lot of kids of that era, I was horse-crazy. On rainy days, indoors, or sunny days in the sandbox, I trotted out my horses and put them through adventures. What with all the westerns on TV at the time, that wasn’t hard to do. And the hours drifted by so pleasantly.
Castles made of my mother’s books, looming fortresses of sand–my horses had their work cut out for them. But those stories I made up for them always came out all right in the end. Soon I left off making up western stories and had my horses interacting with lions, elephants, and dinosaurs.
I wish I could line them up and take a picture for you. If you’re my age, you might spot some dear old friends among the crowd.
Remember these? “Bill Ding Blocks,” they were called, made of wood and brightly colored. They were also called “balancing clowns.” Those strangely leering little figures were supposed to be clowns. And if you were patient, with a light touch, you could set them up into all sorts of improbable arrangements. I used to play with these with my friend, David, next door. We were little more than toddlers at the time, and improbable arrangements were beyond our powers.
Bill Ding Blocks first came out in 1911. In the early 1960’s the company that made them was bought and the product discontinued, but the owner believed in his product and eventually bought back the rights to it. Today they’re manufactured in China. It does seem a shame not to make these in America.
David and I enjoyed these unusual blocks; but I think if we’d looked more closely at the faces, we might’ve had second thoughts. Happy memories, though. Happy low-tech memories.
It’s 1958 and you’ve just acquired a Marx Dinosaur set, complete with an assortment of cavemen. The little fellow pictured above is one of them. There are also cavemen throwing rocks, walking around with clubs and grinning placidly, making stone tools, and cavewomen preparing supper. It was 1958 and we were not required to show transgender cave-bipeds. etc.
Anyway, you’ve got cavemen and they ought to have a cave. Otherwise the dinosaurs will get them. No cave came with the set, so you had to provide your own.
My cavemen lived in caves made of my mother’s books, Grandpa’s beautiful stone building blocks, upside-down shoeboxes… and sand. The sandbox was the best place for caves, mountains, volcanoes, and forts. You did run the risk of losing a caveman or two, because these figurines were really quite small: that determined-looking spearman up there is only about an inch tall, albeit he’d be taller if he’d only stand up straight. I know exactly how tall everybody is because I still have my cavemen, except for those few who, for all I know, are still somewhere at the bottom of the sandbox in the playground next door. Uh, no, wait–they’ve expanded the school to swallow up the playground, and there is no more sandbox. Kids don’t play there anymore.
Is it already too late to teach children to use their imaginations?
I think God will help us if we try.
On dreary, rainy days, like the ones we’ve been having here, the past two weeks, my brother, my sister and I used to go bowling–in the cellar.
We had the ball and the pins, which you weighted by filling them with water. If you didn’t fill the ball just right, the water sloshed around inside of it and made it do strange things when you released it.
We had a ready-made lane in our cellar, between the wall on one hand and the furnace and hot water heater on the other. So as the ball wandered down the alley, bumping into one or the other barriers would return it to its intended course. And there was a plastic sheet to guide us in setting up the pins–if we were able to knock them down.
We never did learn how to keep a proper bowling score, but at least we could count the pins that we knocked over. And the ball made a pleasant sloshing sound as it meandered down the cement floor. The pins made a dull thud when you hit them: not at all like the satisfying “ka-pocka!” they made when you hit them in a real bowling alley. But this one was our own personal bowling alley, and we were mighty glad to have it.
Years later my father bought a wooden pool table, which soon warped just enough to make a straight shot impossible. Really, water-filled bowling was a lot cheaper and much more fun. Even if my sister had to use both hands to roll the ball: the price she paid for being the youngest.
I think we’d all be very pleased if we could somehow play it again, Sam.
Sometimes on a dreary, rainy day, my father let us take the slats out from under our mattresses, set them up across the beds, drape the throw rug over them, and pretend that we were camping.
Having done so, my brother and I would break out the toy animals and dinosaurs and set them on adventures. We never got into army men, but we did have a couple of toy knights, which my mother identified for us as Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad. Under the shelter of our make-believe tent, Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad enjoyed some exciting times exploring lost worlds full of dragons, jungles, the North Pole, and the planet Venus.
Assisted by assorted lions, rhinos, elephants, stegosaurs, and giraffes, our knights overcame aggressive tyrannosaurs, hostile natives, and alien beings. Sometimes we resorted to Grandpa’s old stone building blocks and endowed the knights with castles and forts that had to be defended. A gigantically overgrown Dimetrodon was their biggest challenge, but they were up to it. Occasionally they would recruit bands of cowboys on horseback to help out.
It was amazing how time flew by, when we were doing this. Did I mention that we had lots of little toy cavemen, too? They usually found their way into the story, sometimes as the good guys, sometimes as the bad.
Video games? Fah! Who needs video games?
This 1958 (or ’59) pogo stick is the same kind I had at the time, with the red sponge rubber ball on top for a handle. And if my mother had ever seen the tricks I was doing with my pogo stick, she would’ve had a kazoo.
The kid in this video is good–but I was bouncing up and down our cellar stairs and even up and down the high school football bleachers. You do things when you’re ten years old that you wouldn’t dream of attempting after you’ve grown up.
My friends across the street had a pair of stilts just like those in the video, but none of us ever mastered that art.
One day, alas, a kid in the neighborhood who was much too big for my pogo stick tried it out and bent it beyond repair. And so my pogo days were over.
But if I can ever get my hands on another one…
P.S.–Dig the cool cars in the background!
Before there were video games, there was Melvin the Moon Man.
Remco came out with this game in 1959, and to my 10-year-old mind, the commercials were devastatingly compelling. Had to have it! Had to! Look, ma, it’s got Tumblebum dice!
So we finally got it.
Y’know, there wasn’t much to that game. The big selling point was the dice inside this plastic hourglass thing that you spun, instead of rolling the dice on the game board. And you moved these little flat plastic spacemen around, according to the roll of the dice, and collected Moon Bucks. It looked like such a blast on TV, but in real life, it didn’t even challenge my kid sister’s sense of strategy; and she was only four years old.
That may be because there was no strategy involved in it. You just went where the dice told you to go. No choices to make, no decisions. No thought at all.
I wonder why it hasn’t made a comeback.
After the Age of Dinosaurs, so we’ve all been told, came the Age of Mammals. And after Nabisco finished packing tiny little plastic dinosaurs as free prizes inside boxes of Wheat and Rice Honeys, they moved on to prehistoric mammals.
I loved these just as much as I loved the dinosaurs, and I’ve been able to save a few of them. I’m a fiend for prehistoric mammals, and have recruited a lot of them for appearances in my Bell Mountain novels. King Ryons rides–or rather, clings precariously to the top of–a Baluchitherium at the Siege of Obann, and a Saber Tooth Tiger features in the climax of The Last Banquet. I’ve shed all that Darwinian baggage, but I hope I’ll never cease to admire and enjoy these spectacular examples of God’s handiwork. With the whole universe and all of time and space at His disposal, I’m sure God has hung onto His Baluchitherium, somewhere… as I’ve hung onto mine.
(P.S.–Ignore that “Giant Sloth” label on one of the toys. That’s a Barylambda, or I’m Spartacus. And Nabisco deserved great credit for popularizing this very little-known creature as a toy.)
Ah, there they are! The whole gang. Free Inside! For a little golden while in the 1950s, these gloriously crude little dinosaurs came free inside boxes of Nabisco cereal–Wheat Honeys and Rice Honeys, to wit. You can only imagine with what eagerness I opened each fresh box of cereal and rooted around until I found my prize.
Actually these figures were a little smaller than pictured above, which made it terribly easy to lose them in the sandbox. I still have a few of them, and I wouldn’t part with them for all the tea in China.
Looking back, I’m amazed at what little it took to make kids happy, back then. Well, these toys made me happy, at any rate. So did a 5-cent pack of baseball cards, which costs $5 now and probably makes no one happy.
All right, maybe you’re not into dinosaurs. But there were all kinds of nifty prizes in cereal, those days. Little plastic figures of characters in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (remember that?); bronze or silver-colored plastic doodads representing famous breeds of dogs; little spacemen, The Spoonmen, that you could attach to your cereal spoon… little cars, little speedboats. All of them simple, tiny, cheap–and lovable.
I don’t even what to know what they’re offering 9-year-olds today. I’m sure it would depress me.