Memory Lane: Water-Powered Rocket

Now that the weather’s warming up, here’s an outdoor toy–you’ll soon catch onto why you shouldn’t play with it indoors–that was heavily advertised on TV when I was a boy: the water-powered rocket.

Whoosh! Look at ‘er go! I want it, I want it! This was back at the beginning of the space program when we were bringing TV sets to school to watch the latest launch from Cape Canaveral. So much cooler than plain old lessons! When those first astronauts went up, the whole country went up with them. But oddly enough, I never got one of those water-powered rockets, nor did I know any kid who had one. The fulfillment of this dream had to wait till I grew up.

Finally! I bought a water-powered rocket. Mine, all mine! I took it out to the schoolyard and hoped it wouldn’t fly so far away that I couldn’t find it. Pump, pump, pump the launcher, build up that pressure. And then, and then… Launch!

It gave this sort of little farting sound and mostly just fell off the launcher. Even as a little kid I could have thrown the fatzing rocket farther than it ever flew from the launcher. Again and again I tried. Its best effort was about four or five feet. Not exactly a moon shot.

I do wonder if everybody’s water-powered rocket was as big a disappointment as this. Nowadays you can get these huge, elaborate water-powered rockets, YouTube is full of them and they probably cost a fortune.

But I think I’ve learned my lesson.

Memory Lane: Rock ‘Em-Sock ‘Em Robots

How about a little normalcy break?

This is one of those 1960s toys that made liberals and sissies clutch their pearls and gasp their disapproval. Boxing robots. Ugh! Hey, they’re tryin’ to knock each other’s heads off! How aggressive! No wonder we’ve got a war in Viet Nam! Never mind two Democrat presidents, Kennedy and Johnson, thinking it was a good idea at the time.

What harm could be done by a couple of primitive plastic robots flailing away at each other with their plastic fists? It’s not exactly the gladiatorial games, is it? No blood, no pain. Just a bit of goofy fun. Much better, really, than kids actually fighting. Less damaging than playing football. Is it really worse than Zombie Apocalypse video games, like we have today? Mixed Martial Arts, anyone?

But this–it was harmless, it was silly, and fun.


Memory Lane: Odd Ogg

“Odd Ogg, Odd Ogg, half-turtle and half-frog…”

Sorry, but that’s all I can remember of the 1962 Ideal Toy commercial jingle that introduced this unusual toy, Odd Ogg. I was 13 then; if I’d been eight, nothing would’ve stopped me from getting this toy for Christmas.

Battery-powered, Ogg would sort of play catch with you. If you rolled a plastic ball right down the middle to him, he would come toward you. If you missed, he would back up and razz you.

Totally harmless! Hours of innocent fun! What could be more out of place in this evil age that we’re marooned in?

I’d love to try it–and I wonder what my cats would think of it.

But Odd Ogg sells on eBay now for $100 to $500… The cats will have to be content with cardboard boxes.

Memory Lane: ‘Little Orby’

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How about something totally harmless? “Little Orby,” vintage 1961.

I wish I could show some video of this toy, but I couldn’t find any. Too bad–because Little Orby was way cool. See that little ring? You pull that, and Orby walks straight up the wall–maybe even on the ceiling.

That’s because there’s a spring inside, and suction cups, and the spring makes the suction cups rotate, propelling Orby forward. Show it to a college student today, and he or she will think it’s magic.

“Harmless” is a quality that’s harder and harder to come by, these days. If you can find it, treasure it.

Memory Lane: Your Own Toy Organ

A line from an ancient commercial floated through my mind: Whee, whee, whee, whee, whee! It’s Emenee! Holy cow, what made me remember that? Emenee toy organs, vintage 1960s.

Suddenly everybody had one. We had one in our house, my aunts had one in theirs, and Uncle Bernie in his. Emenee made all kinds of musical instruments for kids, but was best known for the organs. The one in the video, the guy bought from Goodwill for a mere $12. Old as the hills, and still works.

When Patty and I were first married, we used to go to Walden Books in the Menlo Park Mall in search of scary novels. Right outside the bookstore was a display of organs suitable for the home. Whenever you went, you could count on somebody sitting at the biggest organ, playing “Blue Spanish Eyes.”

Were more people making more music, back then? I think they were. And nothing was digital yet, the personal computer was decades away. But you could have your own organ.

Memory Lane: Marx Play Sets

I loved those play sets by the Marx Toy Co.! I didn’t have any of these carry-all cases, but I did have the Cape Kennedy play set when it was still called Cape Canaveral: and boy, those spring-powered rockets! You could actually put a dent in your ceiling. Like, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” But the threat was obvious even to us kids, and nobody shot his eye out with a Nike missile.

The commercial also shows Fort Apache, Noble Knights, and Boot Camp play sets. My favorite, not shown, was Dinosaurs and Cave Men.

These toys set my imagination on fire. For a while there I wanted to be a toy maker when I grew up, so I could design some really far-out play sets. But in the meantime I rejoiced in setting up the little plastic figurines and turning the set-up into a story.

Have they quite succeeded, yet, in putting the imagination into deep freeze? Would kids even know what to do with a play set anymore?

I remain hopeful: just give them time, and they’ll figure it out. Human nature as God created it, good and bad, will not be denied forever.

P.S.–Where did my video go? Can any of you see it?

A Christmas Conspiracy

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Once upon a time, my brother and I were beguiled by Genuine Oriental Malay Throwing Knives they had for sale at Metuchen Center. I mean, what could be cooler than that? And besides, Christmas was coming! And the deadly knives were well within even our meager price range–a steal at 75 cents each. So we conspired to give each other Genuine Oriental Malay Throwing Knives as Christmas presents.

When the presents were unwrapped on Christmas morning, we earned some sour looks from the obvious source. But my mother needn’t have worried. The Genuine Oriental Malay Throwing Knives wouldn’t cut a piece of bread. I can only imagine what Genuine Occidental Malay Throwing Knives could do. And no matter how many times you threw your throwing knife at a tree, it always struck with a “Splat!” instead of with that satisfying “Thwunggg!” that you always hear in movies. It always, always hit the tree flat, never, never with the point.

As a self-defense weapon, these babies were perfectly useless. You’d have a better chance fending off attackers with ribald limericks. As projectiles, they were only very slightly better than plaster statues of Liberace.

But at least they were cheap!

Memory Lane: Trolls and Wishniks

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Remember these, from the early 1960s? First they were called trolls, then “Wishniks.” Originally invented by a Danish toymaker, they took off like a rocket and soon everybody was selling knockoffs. As I recall it, every girl in  our junior high school had one of these attached to her purse. These toys sold out easily, and some parents had to go to a lot of trouble to provide them for their kids. Sort of like what happened with Cabbage Patch Kids, much later. But we are talking Bronze Age stuff today.

Wishniks never entirely went away. You can still get them, and they come in many different sizes. When I was a liquidator I tried to corral a batch of keychain-sized Wishniks, but a competitor beat me to it.

Before you write them off as just another toy fad, I have heard that Wishniks now constitute a strong majority in the Oregon State Legislature.

Memory Lane: Trying to Get Neanderthal Man to Stand Up

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I was so pleased when I came upon this picture! You see, I actually had this model, way back when Neanderthal Men were but a recent memory. In fact, I had it twice: got it once for Christmas from my folks, and then again for my birthday, from my uncle.

And that was a good thing: although the finished model looks easy enough, I made a real hash of it, the first time. The guy with the club was no problem, but the skeleton gave me fits. Pieces of it just kept falling off. I understand now that my big mistake was attempting to assemble him from the feet up, thus running afoul of gravity.  I should have put the skeleton together piece by piece, leaving plenty of time for the glue to dry before going on to the next piece, and keeping the poor guy lying on his back until the job was finished. But that much insight was unavailable to me as a 12-year-old.

Second time out, I speeded up the process instead of slowing down, and in practically no time at all, I had a whole skeleton standing there. Proudly displaying it to Uncle Bernie, I continue to salute him for not guffawing when the skeleton suddenly fell apart. Just like that. Like suddenly the glue just didn’t work. Fanabla.

Well, I sort of gave up after that, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the plastic skull. I used it as a decoration on the floor of my lizard cage, where it remains to this day.

And the moral of the story is… Successful model assembly requires patience. Something not always easy to come by in your early teens.

Memory Lane: Great Garloo

Stop! I can’t stand any more news. The Smartest People in the World want to bring back communism, thus proving that they’re really The Dumbest People in the World. And I just can’t stomach any more today.

So let’s flee back to 1961, when Great Garloo by Marx was one of the top toys. You could sort of have your own monster movie right there in your bedroom, if you felt like setting up toy buildings and railroads for Garloo to destroy. Or he could carry your kid sister’s doll. Whatever.

Garloo’s remote control wasn’t wireless, as you can see. And he cost $17.98, which was rather a prodigious price for a toy in 1961. You’d have to put a gun to my mother’s head to get her to spend that kind of loot.

But the ad is endearing, isn’t it? In less than a minute, Great Garloo transforms from a rampaging monster to a meek domestic servant. If only you could’ve gotten him to do your homework for you…