Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Whatever happened to toys? All you hear about today is electronics and video games. What happened to those things that inspired imagination? Today's post isn't about anything specific to South Philly, just a memory of those things we played with. Click on the "Toys" title link above to see the video of commercials for the toys we played with in the 70s. If you're old enough, you'll remember them. Bing Bang Boing is shown. No, it wasn't some perverse sexual game. Just a thing with steel balls that you bounced on these drum-tight things. It probably kept you interested for maybe a few hours. Then you went and hung out on the street with the guys.

While today's toys seem to be video everything, having toys made of cheap plastic were fun for us. Who can forget the Rock'em, Sock'em Robots? You got to knock your opponents block off, and you could do it without getting your mom mad at you for slapping your brother around. Then again, once you played, you probably wanted to smack him around. Most of the guys I grew up with would wrestle in the living room. We never broke anything, whether it was our bones or mom's knick-knacks. Was it the Rock'em Sock'ems that inspired us, or the cartoons we watched? It doesn't matter. We had fun, and we survived it.

I remember my sister had the Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven, an electric toy oven that came with cake mixes and other fun stuff. So she got to bake a half-dozen cakes the width of a coffee can lid, and we got to eat them. What to do with that oven once the mixes are all gone? Not to worry. Your brothers will get a bunch of crayons and other nasty stuff and put it inside and turn it on. The molten mess ruined the oven, so no need to worry about going to the toy store to buy more mixes. Hey, it was made by the same folks who made the GI Joe line of dolls. Luckily for my sister, our GI Joes never made it to the inside of her oven.

And speaking of GI Joe, remember when they were big enough to keep your attention? Bigger than a Barbie doll that the girls played with. The last ones I remember seeing were smaller, much smaller, than that. Downsizing should never hit the toys you were fond of. GI Joe had so many different weapons, vehicles, and commando gear that your imagination kept going for hours and hours on end each day. If left to American boys instead of the guys in Washington, we may have won the Vietnam War with our strategy. No one asked us, so the war was a debacle and our first military loss. It's a shame, me and the boys had it all worked out. Ho Chi Minh City would still be known as Saigon today. But no, they wouldn't listen...never mind.

Remember the View-Master from GAF? Not much to hold your attention. This "educational toy" had a disk that gave you stereo views of images such as US landmarks, some of the models had sound too, so you got a few seconds of someone telling you about the Washington Monument before you pitched it off to the side in favor of the fun Christmas gifts.

I think most kids in the neighborhood had a crack at Twister. Just a vinyl mat with big colored dots and a spinner that had you twisting up like a pretzel around your friends. Maybe this is the reason for all my spinal problems today. Young kids just twisted around on that mat. Later in your teen years, you may have said, "I'd like to play Twister with her" when thinking about some girl you had the liking for. Aw heck, she wouldn't play with you and you know it. Stop dreaming boy. And even so, if she did, you both could reminisce in your adult years about the day you both screwed up your spine. Owwww!

What about Erector sets? Who erected anything with those sets? They were boring. Strips of metal you joined together to make structures of...whatever it was you made. I never had one. Good, because it would be a wasted toy under the tree. We had Lincoln Logs, and although it wasn't anything fantastic, it gave us the chance to build log homes that we could crash our SSPs into (yes, we had them, the cars you'll see in the video - we had the Demoliton Derby set and had lots of fun with it).

Later in our teen years, we took to building model cars and planes. They never saw the new year, we would always blow them up with M80s when New Year came around. They still sell those model kits today. I haven't seen someone buy one in eons, but someone still must have an interest in these things.

Then there were Soccer-Boppers. Remember them? Just two big oversized inflatable mitts that you could bop someone in the face with and not give him a bloody nose. Cool, but it seems my brother and I forgot to put on the boppers sometimes. Ah, maybe we didn't forget.

I know you had a favorite toy, one that you fondly remember. Tell me about it. Post your memory in the comments. I want to see what your favorite was.

...The big toy stores like Kiddie City or Play Town (aka Baby Town) at 23rd & Passyunk Ave. Today's mall stores like Kay-Bee aren't anything near it in size.

...HotWheels cars and their track sets. We had fun with them, but even better were slot cars, those electric powered cars that couldn't seem to stay on the tracks. We didn't care, we probably spent more time playing with them than most other toys.

... Electric Football games - Why in the world did we want those things? A bunch of plastic players on a vibrating metal field. We never could get it to work the way we thought it should. Okay, video wins out here. I think Madden Football would win the hearts of anyone over that pathetic game we had. It made it to the trash no more than a month after Christmas.


Catherine said...

toys are the fantastic things for the kids they are the best buddies in the childhood

Brian said...

My wife asked me to take a walk with her to the flea market at the Free Library last Saturday. Some neat stuff, some junk. She called out to me, "oh look, Rock'em, Sock'em Robots!" She remembered them too! I thought I remembered them being much sturdier than what I saw, but then again, it may be that the item I saw there was manufactured later than when I had one, back in the late 1960s or very early 1970s.

Dan Cochran said...

I recall that there was a Playtown store just north of Reading, PA in Muhlenberg Twp. Good times...