Those Marvelous Toys

And I’ve Been Able to Keep a Lot More Than You’d Imagine

By Jeff Salter

I had to double-check the 4F1H schedule for this week, because I was 99% sure this topic had been proposed by ME. Nope, it was suggested by Tonette, the Friday Fox. Why did I automatically assume the topic had sprung from my noggin? Glad you asked. Back when I was still working full-time as a public library administrator, I had regular displays – mostly of my own military gear collections – which I’d put on exhibit for a month at one Library facility or another (in our multi-branch system). The very last display I put together (before retirement) was in December of 2005, and featured antique toys. [A suitable theme for the weeks leading up to Christmas, don’t you think?]

After an exhaustive search of my photo files, I cannot locate any photos, however — which saddens me. This 2005 display included many antique toys from my colleagues and friends, as well as several from my mother and mother-in-law — many of them dated back to the early 1900s. But at least a third of that entire display consisted of my own childhood toys.

How Did So Many of My Toys Survive?

Read back over the Tuesday and Wednesday posts this week and you’ll see a discussion about the keen sense of LOSS when a child has grown, gone away to college (or wherever) and returned home to find their TREASURES gone (or damaged). In my own case, I’m pretty sure it was during my freshman college year, two states distant, when my Dad cleaned out the attic and hauled nearly everything to Goodwill. I no longer remember everything that vanished in that operation, but among those treasures were three vintage wooden and metal (toy) rifles… which I’d played with for years.

By some miracle – which I’m still partly unclear about – a lot of my other toys survived that purge. Possibly I’d placed them in the sizeable wooden footlocker with other things like high school reports and themes, my own poems and stories, and important papers like score sheets for college entrance exams. Not sure. But wherever I’d stashed my other toys, they were still safe and sound when I discovered the loss of those toy rifles and other treasures.

Passing Along to My Son

Another somber chapter to this whole subject was when our toddler son was beginning to play with toys, I turned over to him some of those treasures I’d enjoyed for years and lovingly protected for a decade or so. Sadly, for two different reasons, I suppose, many of them broke in his hands. Reason # 1: they were old and brittle… and had been stored in extreme attic heat of southeast Louisiana summers. Reason # 2: he was too young to be careful and (obviously) too young to have any recognition or appreciation that Toy X had been a particular favorite of his father’s.

But I quickly learned my lesson and reclaimed those toys which had survived his too-early custody. [I held no grudge against my son, of course. In my haste to share with him the enjoyment of my treasures, I had introduced them while he was still too young (and too uncoordinated). He was at the age (pre-school, as I recall, or maybe kindergarten) when toys stomp around roughly or occasionally fly through the air.]

But I learned a lesson. I boxed up those treasures of mine and let him play with the new, sturdy Fischer-Price gizmos (his grandparents bought him) which easily stood up to the abuse of a child that age.

horses

I never could find a properly-sized rider for that black stallion. The white horse had a Native American rider. The knights and cowboys were approximately the same scale — about 54 mm — but I can’t find any of my original cowboys.

My Earliest Toys

Discussed here are some of the treasures I still possess — which I retrieved from storage for these new photos.

* Received (while in kindergarten) for birthday or Christmas of 1955 — a metal fire truck. Originally it had two metal ladders (each about five inches long); also, a metal compartment with a rubber bladder inside, & a teeny fire hose. [Those accessories have long vanished].

* Also from the Macon years, a large plastic horse. Originally it had a bridle & complete saddle (with stirrups). For years, my mom and I looked for a RIDER for this horse, but none could be found in the proper scale. Years later, when my son was acquiring new toys, one of the companies introduced an 11-inch-tall character named Johnny West, who had a horse almost the exact size of my black stallion. Kind of ironic that my horse spent my entire childhood seeking a rider, and when my son came along, there were (correctly-sized) riders in every store with a toy department. [My son got Mr. West and his arch-enemy, Black Bart, along with other figures, as I recall.]

* I no longer recall WHY I wanted this, but my mom acceded to my desire for an actual “cow bell” (used as a toy). I’m sure the rest of the family HATED this loud, clangy toy, BTW. This was also around my kindergarten year… and possibly was influenced by a TV character on the Howdy-Dowdy Show.

soldiers

Most of my original squad. You can easily see why the disparity in scale bothered me. The tank should have been large enough for most of these soldiers to ride on its rear deck — in other words, at least three times the size of this toy.

Soldiers and Battles

* As a kid, I spent a lot of time playing out scenarios featuring soldiers and battles. I still have many of my original plastic soldiers. My “squad” of WW2 soldiers numbered only about a dozen or so… and they were from at least three different sets. Several are Tim-Mee brand; others are un-marked. They vary in size from about 54mm to 65mm.

* Along with the soldiers, I had a hard rubber tank & half-track, both modeled after WW2 vehicles. The tank – a Sherman, I think – is by Auburn. I bought them (with my own, earned money) at Morgan & Lindsey, a local “dime store,” for 25 cents each. One thing which always bothered me was that the soldiers and vehicles were in such vastly different scales. For those soldiers (averaging about 60mm), the toy vehicles should have been about three times their current size.

* My interest in military figures was not limited to WW2, of course. I also had two or three knights & horses. Knights were rubber; horses were hard plastic. Originally, they possessed things like swords and spears… and possibly shields. But along the way, those accessories were lost.

* Continuing my interest in military figures, I was swept up in the commercial fervor of the initial year of the American Civil War centennial, 1961-65. I never acquired a set of those soldiers, but did possess a couple of individuals — can’t recall if they were blue or gray. Along the way, I traded some firecrackers to a neighbor [who’d just received a brand new CW set] and thereby acquired a plastic cannon, this one missing its breech piece & spring (which would have allowed tiny plastic projectiles to be “fired”).

western

These toy guns would fire “caps” which made a BANG and bit of smoke when the hammer struck the little packet of gunpowder.

Cowboy Stuff — Western Influence

Westerns – both in movies and on TV – were quite the thing when I was a kid.

* In addition to that enormous black stallion mentioned above, I evidently had an interest in horses generally. The smallest of these were in the same scale as my knights and my cowboys and Indians (mentioned below). The grey is hard plastic (by Bergen); others were rubber. About three times their size are white plastic horses [no maker indicated] which originally had Native American riders — long since missing.

* Definitely among my all-time favorite toys was the used “Stallion 38” model “six-shooter” by Nichols — which I got in trade from my brother, after the trigger/hammer spring had broken. The cylinder holds six cartridges & actually revolves. Inside these “bullets” were “caps” (thin paper packets with a tiny blob of gunpowder). Pull the trigger & BANG (just noise & a bit of smoke, but of course no projectile came out!)

* Made popular during the New Orleans set TV series, Yancy Derringer, these little single shot cap guns were (briefly) all the rage. I had two of these derringers — one was a “Dyna-Mite” model by Nichols. The one pictured is marked only with an “H”.

* When you’re pretending to be Roy Rogers or the town sheriff, you often need to lock up assorted outlaws. To that end, I acquired a set of sturdy jail-house keys, which I put to good use… cleaning up our little neighborhood.

misc

Tops and Yo-Yos required skill and practice. Interesting how different the mid-1950s “spacemen” looked from our actual astronauts merely a decade later. The cowbell was real and I’m sure my family HATED it.

Skill and Competition

Among the games and activities we played at home and school recess were those which required learning a skill, practicing endlessly, and competing with others (in a variety of games).

* During my middle elementary years, it was important to be able to properly spin wooden tops, with metal tips (which some kids actually SHARPENED). The current generation of kids might be baffled by a piece of carved wood activated with wound string and a flick of the wrist. As I recall, a good top could be purchased for under a dollar.

* Another toy requiring skill and dedicated practice was the wooden yo-yo — and I had several. My favorite was the butterfly model. Pictured here is the “Tournament” model by Duncan. I think you could get nearly any model for about a dollar, with the fancy ones maybe another fifty cents. The manufacturer – and/or certain larger toy stores – would occasionally sponsor competitions. Interestingly, some of the best competitors were grown men! It kinda took the “amateur” fun out of things to have adult males winning yo-yo prizes.

vehicles

Got the fire truck in kindergarten. After an eye injury and an accumulation of scar tissue on my left side required me to see two different specialists in New Orleans, my mom would buy me one of those tiny, five cent, vehicles in the foreground… for being a “good boy” in the doctor’s office.

Vehicles

Another of my favorite groups of toys was vehicles of various sizes and types. I’ve already noted the large fire truck, one of my earliest toys. But I also had a metal VW, a plastic Model T (by Plasticraft), and a TootsieToy racing car. In the smallest scale, under an inch long, were the metal cars Mom bought at a downtown New Orleans “dime store” (for five cents apiece) as a reward for me behaving during numerous trips to an eye specialist and a radiation specialist — for two different medical issues… both in the late 1950s.

Miscellaneous

No toy collection would be complete without a cigar box to held souvenirs, knick-knacks, oddities, & other assorted “treasures.” The oldest one I still possess dates to around 1960, I guess.

You’ll notice a mid-1950s concept of a Spaceman in one of the photos. I had about four different individuals in this set and they were popular because of all the low-budget Sci-Fic films of that era.

Question:

What about YOU? What were your favorite childhood toys? Do you still have any of them?

[JLS # 401]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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13 Responses to Those Marvelous Toys

  1. kathleenbee says:

    I love that you kept your old toys! I didn’t keep anything. I recognize the yo-yo. I had a green one. I think I spent most of my time outside, throwing a tennis ball against the wall. And I loved riding on my roller skates down the driveway into the garage. Had a few dolls too – Cindy and Barbie. My friend and I used to make real families with all our dolls and furniture. Then we grew up a little bit too fast when we went to high school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      were you able to do any tricks on the yoyo?
      I could “walk the dog” and “rock the cradle” and “sleep”.
      And there was some maneuver called “around the world” that sometimes was successful and sometimes would bonk me in the noggin.

      Like

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    My brothers both played with toys similar to those you show here. This summer we found a lot of them stored away in my parents’ basement. Oddly, the small figurines weren’t there, but LOTS of the cars were, and my grandson now plays with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      It’s odd that I couldn’t find any of my cowboys and Indians. Not that I had very many to begin with, but I know I had close to a dozen. Perhaps they were among the few toys that successfully integrated with my son’s belongings.

      Like

  3. WHAT TREASURES! All of the ‘boy toys’ are familiar to me from my brother, who is just a couple of years older than you are, Jeff. Toy soldiers were big with him. We also had knights around the house. Cowboys and guns were big ad my mother had been very pleased that he kept them and his Tonka and other trucks in great condition, but most were left behind with many of my treasures, and books, in a fateful move of the family after I got married.
    Had we only known! We could have rescued them.
    I also had a few older toys passed down to my grandkids that they were to young to appreciate, as , now that I think of it, mine were, when my nieces got them.
    You have a great collection and I hope that when you find the pictures of the library displays, you will post them online.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I’m certain I took photos of that display, because I documented all the other exhibits I staged. I’ve checked every likely folder (on the computer). Hopefully, they’ll turn up some day.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. jbrayweber says:

    Great blog post, Jeff! I love looking at the pictures of your old toys and reading about your memories.

    I have ALL my old Fischer Price playsets—house, school, train, barn, city, boat. I have enjoyed watching both my kids play with them when they were smaller. My youngest occasionally asks that I get them out of the attic so she can play with them. I hope that their children will find joy in them someday, too.

    On the flip side, I have also kept ALL my Breyer Horses (including their boxes). Those are NOT played with. I suppose I should get them out of the attic, but neither kid seemed interested in the few toy plastic horses (not Breyer) that they have. Those Breyers are worth money!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      yes, much better to get them out of the attic — temperatures too extreme in both winter and summer. They need to be in a climate-controlled environment.
      Would love to see a photo…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How wonderful that you still have so many of your toys! I remember playing with cap guns when I was little in the 80s. I recently bought one for my youngest this year, it was cheaply made of orange plastic and did not last like the metal one that I had as a child.
    I remember my brothers and I having several toys soldiers, cowboys, and Native Americans. We loved playing with them.
    I remember when my oldest brother joined the military he stored a lot of his toys in a large chest that had once belonged to our grandparents. As he has not come home yet, (he just retired this year and is currently working in Korea) all of his old toys are still in there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I’m glad that nobody has messed with those treasures of your military brother. Someday he will write a blog like this one and proudly display a few of those items which made his childhood special.

      Like

  6. Elaine Cantrell says:

    We have horses and cap guns in common, Jeff. I loved both of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      the more common cap buns would use a small roll of caps which would advance as you pulled the trigger. I think I had one of those also. But this one used actual cartridges — shown in the pix — and you inserted the single cap in between the casing and the lead “bullet”. Then you placed that loaded cartridge into the cylinder’s chamber. It was a lot of work, but as I said, mine was already broken when I got it…

      Like

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