When Danger Was a Toy’s Best Asset

The response to my ramblings about the foods I miss was so amazing (thank you all) I’ve been in hyper-retro-reminiscence mode for going on a week now. And once I’d reminded myself of all the delectable morsels I could think of, my thoughts naturally shifted over to, what else, TOYS!

I fondly remember the arrival of the new Sears & Roebuck Christmas Wishbook each year. I’d heft that thousand-page, ten-pound behemoth into the living room, flop down onto my stomach on the rust-colored shag carpeting, flip right to the toy section (just past halfway through the catalog, if I remember correctly) and begin working on the Great American Christmas List.

I wrote with reckless abandon. Retail prices did not threaten my resolve. I scoffed at warnings of images being ‘representational only’. My juvenile sense of entitlement drove me, gave me the doggedness to resist the temptation of JP Patches and Speed Racer until the list had reached completion. After maybe two solid hours of furious page-flipping, cross-referencing, and chicken-scratching, I had composed a prize-winning (if nearly illegible) Xmas List. Little did I know that the very items I was asking for — many of which I would eventually receive — would one day constitute little more than a blurb in a schmaltzy mass-market publication.

The research of the various items I list here turned out similarly to that of the food items. Some are no longer manufactured while others are still on the market, but in name only. The main reason for this is, as you’d expect, safety. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

Clackers

Status: No longer manufactured

The scares and controversy surrounding these injury-inducing contrivances notwithstanding, this is probably the one item I miss the most. Two balls of colored acrylic attached with a string. It’s not a particularly clever toy, nor is it something that commands more than fifteen minutes worth of continual playtime. But for some reason I can’t fully explain, it stands above all other toys as the One Great Bauble. Perhaps it was its usefulness as a weapon as well as a noisemaker. Maybe it was the thrill of knowing that at any time the clackers could explode from impact with one another and send tiny, cornea-shredding shards of Plexiglass into the eye sockets of anyone within a six-foot radius. Hard to say. I just remember that mine were green, that I got them at Disneyland, and that I have no idea what happened to them.

Clackers as I remember them are no longer made. There are crappy knock-offs made from run-of-the-mill plastic (which, due to the inherent differences in acrylic and thermoplastic, are completely useless). There are also a small number of the originals out there on the collector’s market if the manifestation of that particular memory is worth $35 to you.

Lawn Darts (aka Jarts)

Status: Available only outside the US

Quite possibly the most dangerous toy I was ever given. Heavy. Aerodynamic. Impalement-ready. Banned from sale in the US in 1988. Being a temerarious, by-the-seat-of-my-pants kid, I ignored the numerous warnings on the box and invented all sorts of insane games with these things. Revealing these games here would only serve to enlighten everyone to just how much of a lunatic I was and that has little value. What I want to mention about Lawn Darts is that despite their reputation as the World’s Deadliest Toy, they are only outlawed here in the US. This either means that Lawn Darts are only dangerous to Americans or that Americans are a bunch of craven ninnies who won’t be happy until every sharp corner and edged protrusion in the country is covered in bubble-wrap.

Shogun Warriors

Status: No longer manufactured

The granddaddy of projectile-launching toys with more small parts than a two-year-old could even think of swallowing, Shogun Warriors — specifically the 24″ plastic monstrosities — were everything a twelve-year-old boy could want in an action figure. They were spring-loaded, relatively durable, and looked like truly bad-ass versions of Gigantor. They even had wheels on their feet which, when Hot Wheels tracks were employed, enabled them to traverse the gentle slope from the top of the driveway to the numerous regiments of hapless army men at the bottom all by themselves. I became pretty accurate with Mazinga’s red-tipped rockets, too. Got to the point where I could hit a kneeling bazooka gunner from ten feet away. Ah, good times.

Of course, once the critical number of children who had either choked on or lost and eye to the various Shogun projectiles had been reached, American legislators stepped in and put limitations on spring-loaded toys which ended up killing the Shogun Warriors line in the states. Kids quickly found that a spring-launched missile that was tethered to the launcher by a two-inch piece of string somehow lacked the same thrill. Go figure.

VertiBird

Status: No longer manufactured

Not sure why this one went the way of the dodo, since it wasn’t exactly a dangerous toy. Oh sure, the whirling blade smarted a bit if it whacked you on the side of the knuckle, but I doubt anyone ever ended up in the emergency room from a VertiBird-related injury. It was also an extremely popular toy; Wikipedia claims it “is one of the most famous and cherished toys ever”. I have to agree. I absolutely loved my VertiBird Airborne Rescue Mission set. You know what’s fun? One kid firing Shogun Warrior rockets at army men while another kid tries to ‘rescue’ the army men with the VertiBird. The resulting build up of anticipation and excitement was something that no amount of drug experimentation later in life could hope to replicate.

Interesting tidbit: I think the term ‘VertiBird’ might be the very first instance of the 21st century fad of capitalizing a letter in the middle of a word. It predates words like PowerBook and LaserJet by almost two decades.

The Green Machine

Status: Available in a revamped adult version!

Every kid in my neighborhood had a Big Wheel. Well, the kids with single moms had a knock-off called the Hot Cycle, but we didn’t concern ourselves with brands when we were kids. As far as we were concerned, the major difference was that the Big Wheel had an adjustable seatback while the Hot Cycle had an immovable bucket seat. Beyond that, the design style was irrelevant…

…until Marx Toys released the Green Machine. With turn-on-a-dime, stick-controlled rear wheel steering, the Green Machine was the instant bad boy of the plastic three-wheelers. Everyone was constantly bugging me to let them ride mine and I imagine it was probably the first item I ever used to get in good with a girl.

The Green Machine’s biggest advantage over the Big Wheel, though, was it’s inclination to go into a spin with the least provocation. In other words, a ludicrous lack of control was it’s greatest and most valued distinction. The pre-teen point-of-view being: Hey, I may not have won the race, but sliding sideways into that fire hydrant was a total blast!

The Green Machine is still manufactured, now under the Huffy brand. When I searched for information on it, I was utterly shocked to find that the new version has actually gone up in quality. It now sports a rubber front tire, steel frame, brake levers built in to the joysticks, and an adjustable bucket seat.

But wait! It gets better! A little more digging revealed that there is an adult version out there priced at under $100. Perhaps this is how I’ll deal with turning 40. My mid-life crisis will be satiated by a Green Machine as opposed to, say, a Ferrari GT308 Quattrovalvole.

Because, you know, I can actually afford the Green Machine. But then again, if I was feeling super industrious, I could try my hand at making my own.

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
This entry was posted in The VOX Years, [this is good] and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to When Danger Was a Toy’s Best Asset

  1. Essy says:

    This post is just as good as the last. I remember clackers also, and they were completely safe. You just hold them out as far as your little arms can reach and only the dog is in danger! Your desciptions made me laugh, although I don't particularly remember some of the toys because they belonged to boys (cooties!). Unfortunately, I never got a Big Wheel, but I did get a banana-seat bicycle. Ahh, memories.

  2. Budd says:

    Big wheels were the coolest. I don't think kids still play on them though. Do you remember the big wheel with the E brake.
    I like when transformers were actually metal. I hate the plastic crap they have now.

  3. Once again you pull at my juvenile heart strings. Of course, there clearly needs to be a girl version complete with the original Barbie head (which is waves better than the current Barbie head). The original Easy Bake Oven and, last but not least, Barbie's Dream House (sigh).

  4. Kirk says:

    Essy and Shannon, I had not even considered the fact I was alienating half the potential readers. Doh! >_< But, I will see what I can do to rectify the situation. Write a girl's version. I'll have a chat with the women in my household — both big Barbie fans — and see what I can come up with. (Feel free to continue feeding me ideas, though.)If I'm being completely honest… I loved the Easy-Bake Oven. Neighbor girl had one. She could make me brownies without her mother lording over us. I adored her… even let her ride my Green Machine!

  5. stubbie23 says:

    Shogun Warriors were my favorite toys next to Star Wars action figures. I spent many a Saturday afternoon with Mazinga , Dragun, and Daimos decimating my poor green and tan army men and their supporting vehicles (sometimes they even called in the Star Wars guys for backup). The projectiles those things fired would never be allowed these days. I remember almost losing some teeth from Daimos' firing fist. My mom said "As long as you don't fire it at your mouth you'll be fine." That's when I switched targets to my unsuspecting cousins.

  6. Kirk- I love reading your 'tales of a 4th grade nothing'. Let's face it, boys got gyped out of Judy Blume and the only thing that can fill the bill is a trip down memory lane on a Green Machine while ripping a 180 at the end of the block.

  7. devonrex says:

    Kirk Starr, you rawk! Keep them comin!ShannonCunningham, Easy Bake Oven? Don't even talk. My dream toy. My parents would never buy me one. I've always acutely felt that loss. The Barbie head is awesome, I had one of those, with the make-up and everything. Best toy ever.What about ponies? Was anyone into ponies? The pony stable was kick-ass.And how about Poochie? It was a pretty forgettable blip on the girl-toy screen, but I totally remember screeching my eyes out on my mom's lap a month before xmas about g-dm poochie. "Mommy, am I getting Poochie for christmas?"I was an obnoxious kid.

  8. Essy says:

    I always wanted an Easy Bake oven. So much so, that I bought my son a boys' version called the Queasy Bake Oven. It's neon green and makes dog-bone shaped cookies and gross-sounding snacks for boys. He used it once. Do these things just have more appeal when you don't actually own one? Does the novelty wear off when you finally get one?

  9. bouche says:

    JARTS!!! jarts… *schniff* I loved jarts and could never believe they were outlawed. I mean, why stop at outlawing those? They should have gone for the whole "lawn" fun family. I'm sure someone could get hurt swifly with a horse shoe or bacci ball… Heck, I think my friends and I hurt eachother much more with sticks and stunts done on a dare!I can't quite remember the specific make and model of my "big wheel", it wasn't green, it was yellow and orange or red. We rode those until we wore through the front tire and until my friends father bent the peddle on mine because "it was in his car's way". Jerk. I can't believe there's an adult version, it would be hysterical to see a shot of guys in their 30s riding 'em (I'll have to see if there's a shot like that on that site).I'm going to go a little further back to preschool toys because I often have "weebles" debates with others. The ones I see now look nothing like they used to. I also remember them having a haunted weebles house or something… Hmm. I'll have to hit our attic and see if any of my old toys were stowed away.You going to touch upon old cartoons next?

  10. Hey Agent– I was a Lawn Jart fan, as well. It was a great dispute settler with 4 kids in the family. It was the actualization of the infamous "A Christmas Story" line "you'll shoot your eye out".
    As far as cartoons, here were my favorites:
    Smurfs (even had the lunch box with the flip top thermos)
    Mon Chi Chi's (the song is burned in my head)
    Richie Rich (and his dog dollar)
    Snorks
    Fat Albert
    Super Friends (Zan, Jana and Gleek were great)
    The TV show cartoon versions (Laverne & Shirley, Brady Bunch, Jackson 5)

  11. M says:

    A Christmas Story is in the top 3 Christmas movies of all time, with It's a Wonderful Life and the original Miracle on 34th Street.
    Kirk, the other thing you probably liked about the Clackers was that, within your 15-minute bore span, your parents were ready to fill their own ears with rubber glue.

  12. bouche says:

    Smurfs is tops with me also and while I never watched the Mon Chi Chi's, their theme has forever been burned in my head!Superfriends was one of those cartoons that I seem to make a lot of references to. I went back to college 2001 and I made one refence to a table of friends who were all younger than I was. One of them said "what the hell are you talking about?" Until that moment, they all thought I was their age.Along with those, I have to add Captain CAAAAAAAVEMAAAAAAAAN! Looking back, I want to ask "was that a bit of a sexist cartoon?" There's also Thundaar the Barbarian, looney tunes, and I remember one where this girl was like a tarzan (shana of the jungle?). Also there were the Herculoids, Space Ghost, Land of the Lost (not a cartoon). I also watched Laverne and Shirley, Brady Bunch, Mork and Mindy, V the Series (freaked me out as a kid), and the bionics (woman and $50,000 man)… The sound effects were priceless.

  13. Amanda says:

    Lawn Darts…I never had any (before my time maybe?) but whenever I hear about them I instantly remember Jeff Foxworthy's joke… "You catch one of them in the head and you're getting coloring books at Christmas for the rest of your life!"
    I always wanted an easy bake oven but never got one. I loved the Barbie heads…and I always wanted a "Kid Sister" doll. Does anybody remember those? They had the boy's version as well…"My Buddy."

  14. Jen says:

    I haven't heard of any of those foods…. that makes me feel like I'm about 3. :X Oh well, I'm sure when I'm older I'll be looking back and think to myself, "I remember when…"

  15. Carol says:

    Ahhh…your post…My parents had Jarts when I was about 13 years old. We had many a pool party with Jarts and croquet, and we and our company always had a blast. No injuries to speak of. My memories of toys are different from yours. While I had Clackers as an adult (my sons were 5 and 2 and they played with them only when I did) my memories are of Thumbilina, (sp) the original Barbie and Ken dolls (I had two each) and old Matchbox cars from the 60s and 70s. My mom threw out all the old toys of my childhood, and many years later apologized to me because my dad told her how valuable they would have been if I had them.

  16. Carol says:

    Uh…wanted to add: Jarts were not IN the pool. We played Jarts with the rings in our yard during a pool party/BBQ. I also had an Easy Bake Oven which was partly responsible for sparking the love I have for baking today.

  17. clamhead says:

    GREEN MACHINE! Oh my gosh, that ranks in the top 5 of my favorite Christmas gifts EVAH. And an adult Green Machine?!?! I know what's going on my Christmas list this year.

  18. David says:

    Oh yes, the Sears Christmas wish book. I could spend hours looking through that book and composing my list. Some of my favorites included my Dukes of Hazzard Big Wheel with hand brake, Transformers, and my Pogo Ball.

  19. Deborah says:

    I loved reading this and all your other posts! I think I enjoyed the catalog more than I ever did the toys. I went to the link you provided for the ADULT green machine. I do believe that is a must for xmas – I'll give it to my husband or my 16 year old son, but I'll get to ride it too!

  20. HapaLove says:

    I think this post has managed to put me in more of a Christmas spirit than anything else possibly could. I was actually lucky enough to have an easy-bake oven, and I loved it; it never lost its magic. I only ever owned one ill-fated barbie; my brother twisted her head off shortly after I received it, I whined, then threw it away and never looked back. I also wanted a mickey mouse talking phone for like 5 years, and my parents thought it was real funny to get me one when I was 20. Ha. Ha.

  21. Kevin G. says:

    As the father of a seven-year-old, I can solemly vouch for the fact that toys today SUCK. The late 1970's – early 1980's period was the Heavenly Nirvana and Golden Age of toys. Nothing out there today is even remotely comparable to the range of fun and interesting toys we had. Something as simple as Hot Wheels tracks–do you know that you cannot buy Hot Wheels tracks in this country any more? How do kids have light saber fights without Hot Wheels tracks?And yes, the VertiBird. Every time birthday or Christmas rolls around, that one comes to mind again. If my parents hadn't moved ten years ago, it would probably still be in their basement. Sigh.

  22. Auds says:

    Although I can't compare to t he coolness of those toys, I have to say I've become severely disapointed when strolling through the aisles at Toys R Us. I used to play with things called Polly Pocket, where Polly was about a cm tall and her home really could fit in your pocket. Now, under ths ame name, I can only find dolls that are about 6 inches tall, totally destroying the essence of Polly Pocket. Maybe to many kids were choking on the tiny girl? I don't know. Either way, I'm stilll upset. I also don't like the way the Littlest Petshop toys has gone..they just look more and more retarded.
    And what the hell are Bratz? So we make Barbie slim down her breast to waist ratio and then allow the rampant production of dolls that teach your daughter to dress like a tramp? With hooker make up and negligee for supposed teen dolls? WTFmate.
    My problem as a kid was I always wanted to the boy toys, but my parents, or particularly my dad thought they were too ugly for me to play with. (Think teenage mutant ninja turtles, jurassic park figurines etc). Their toys just always seemed more functional to me, but I had to just settle by making guy friends with such toys if I couldnt get them myself.

  23. Megan says:

    Fabulous! I loved my My Little Pony big wheel. It was the treasure of my childhood. My father threw it out when we were transferred from Bolling Air Force Base to Norfolk Naval, and I still haven't forgiven him. I loved that thing. My sister had a matching MLP big wheel and we'd ride down the sidewalk from the lieutenant housing down to the commander housing and crash into trash cans. My brother cut a hole in the front tire and it still worked fine. Ah those were the days.

  24. Torch says:

    CLACKERS KILLED MY SKIPPY!!!
    Billy was on his Green Machine. Sue was clacking away, when the balls shattered into pieces! I only lost one eye. Billy lost an eye and the use of one of his arms. The arm injury caused him to run into Ray – who was throwing a Lawn Dart at the time. Poor Skippy! He was hit with the dart…
    We had no time to save him. He was gone. What do you do with a dead chicken?…
    Thank God for Violet's Easy Bake Oven…

  25. Ah, that takes me back! I had more than one set of exploding clackers. I think the thrill of them (and ultimately the disappointment) was the possibility that they could indeed shatter at any moment. No Big Wheel, however. My fly ride was a Crazy Wheel, a circular arm-powered contraption. I drove that thing like a madman when I was hopped up on Pixie Stix, unless of course I was busy compressing my spine on my Hoppity Horse.

  26. shortrow says:

    JP patches! you, you seattle-ite you. Have some Ivars for my will ya'. Fried Clam strips please. imissseattle.

  27. Sol says:

    [ciò è buono]

  28. Kirk says:

    Ringraziamenti per la aggiunta me, Sol. Ho fatto lo stesso,
    anche se capisco soltanto la metà del vostro blog.Hope that makes sense. 😉

  29. Emily says:

    THIS…This either means that Lawn Darts are only dangerous to Americans or
    that Americans are a bunch of craven ninnies who won't be happy until
    every sharp corner and edged protrusion in the country is covered in
    bubble-wrap….is good.

  30. quornflour says:

    Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Harsh perhaps, but play time should be danger time.

  31. Dancing Bear says:

    We have a toy decor in our bathrom and have a set of Jarts in their original box. WE have a pinball game, wind up tin toys, but everybody wants to run out back and throw Jarts at each other. How many clackers was I popped in the head with. WE also have a bunch of old school pictures of people we don't know, old diplomas and awards for other people.

  32. JamesTr says:

    Shogun Warriors – I have 3 of these upstairs in my dad's attic. Not sure if they're still intact, but they should be. Those big things were the coolest.
    Green Machine – I had one of these. Also, very cool. I wore the tire down stopping it in the same spot. It was an awesome thing. Much better than a big wheel.

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