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Kid memories from the patio and beyond!
The 1960's Patio Culture coincided with one of the most prosperous times in American history. Despite the expenditures involved in running a Cold War globally, and a hot one in Vietnam, the U.S. provided ample opportunity for a prosperous middle class to thrive. Couples could build families on blue collar wages, and as often the case, spoil them. Kids reared during the Patio Culture Era were often showered with materialistic goods usually in the form of toys. However, this newfound materialism was often tempered with the traditional childhood imagination exhibited by their parents from the Depression Era. A shiny new toy was often supplemented by a homemade one, and plain old sticks were always perennial favorites. Just like their parents, kids embarked on exciting outdoor adventures in and around the neighborhood...only they were better equipped!
The Visible Man/Woman
One of the "smart toys" I received during Christmas 1966. I'm sure my mother had hopes that these toys might help me develop into a brilliant brain surgeon, but by high school my science grades soon ended this fantasy! The Artificial Man/Woman was just that...a see through version of human anatomy that snapped together within a clear body. Mind you, it had to be purchased in either male or female form...it wasn't sold together. I suspect lingering Victorian values in many parents prompted them to provide only the male version for their curious developing boys. After all, nobody wants plastic uteri strewn about around the place! It's a safe bet that this toy generated more ghoulish appeal than scientific curiousity. This guy was the PERFECT villian for GI Joe to combat! "Take that you translucent fiend!" would be shouted before Joe dispatched the creature sending his guts flying everywhere!
Artificial Pumping Heart
This gift was paired with the Visible Man and produced just about the same amount of scientific prowess. Quite interesting from a plumbing perspective, the Artificial Heart could be connected together with plastic tubing and red fluid (blood) could be pumped throughout the system with a rubber bulb. If the child connected the device properly it simulated the actual way in which blood flows through the various chambers of the human heart. If connected incorrectly, or by using the wrong type of glue like I did, it created a tremendous mess! My grandmother tried to help me, but her selection of Scotch tape didn't make the process any more successful. Needless to say, the patient died a horrible bloody death, and the cold shell of a once (almost) beating heart was soon abandoned.
Texaco Fire Chief Fire Helmet
Just one of the many toys that extended Texaco's branding to future drivers. The Fire Chief helmet, like many toys of the era, had a substantial weight to it to the point of feeling almost real. I'm sure the diminutive size of a child had something to do with it, but I just recall it being heavy. Not only did the helmet protect you from blazing infernos and falling debris, you could bark out orders through the handy speaker mounted in the front! Powered by batteries in the top of the helmet, the speaker could literally annoy hundreds of adults before the daily rigors of childhood activity eventually silenced it. Even when inoperative, the Fire Chief helmet created a dashing look for the child who sported it all over the neighborhood. Large tanker trucks and metal vehicles rounded out the Texaco toy line.
Charlie Weaver Battery Powered Bartender
The toy: Perhaps one of the strangest toys ever to hit the Patio! The Charlie Weaver Bartender was a battery operated mechanical toy based on the TV character of the same name. Once you flipped the switch, he would move around in robotic fashion and make a simulated martini for you. That's it. Kid's weren't bothered by the shameless promotion of alcohol consumption that amuses us as adults. No...to a kid it soon became boring because it just didn't do anything. I'm sure many of these became hapless taped down test pilots for horrendous skateboard tricks.
V-rroom Engine by Mattel
Sleek, powerful, LOUD! The V-rroom Engine by Mattel provided all the raw horsepower a kid on a tricycle could handle! This battery operated toy motorcycle engine could be mounted to any tricycle or bicycle, and had a variable sound control mounted to the handlebars much like the throttle cable on the real thing. If a kid wanted to simulate powerful acceleration, he would only have to gun the throttle and a mind boggling cacophony of engine sounds would be available to annoy the neighbors. I myself was "asked" to reduce the volume of this mighty piece of engineering in this way. Trike mounted horsepower was great, but once a kid graduated to two wheels, the engine could be remounted. Soon, real motorcycles consumed our attention leaving the Mighty Mattel V-rroom engine a fond memory.
Show 'n Tell Picturesound Program
The Show 'n Tell slide viewer/record player was the closest most kids got to getting their own TV. Sure, old black & white sets migrated into our rooms by the end of the 60's, but at least you could control what was on this one. The viewer came with story sets that consisted of a film slide that could be loaded from the top and a 45 rpm record that told the story. The machine would advance automatically as the story progressed, sort of like those automatic film projectors you saw in school...dink-click! Most of the story sets were pretty lame if you were above the age of six, so most of the time it served as as personal record player. I spent the Christmas holiday of 1966 getting razzed by my older cousin and his friends for playing Winchester Cathedral (I WAS SEVEN), but was later accepted when I played the Beatles instead. Ah, we couldn't wait to get a real stereo!
Star Trek Tracer Gun
You couldn't face the "final frontier" without the Star Trek tracer gun! Forget phasers, this little beauty could fire (and I mean FIRE) plastic discs at tremendous velocity rendering powerless alien attackers and small animals. The spring-fed magazine of the tracer gun could be loaded with 15-20 plastic multi-colored discs and could be fired as fast as a kid could pull the trigger. Many "missions" would have to be taken outside as parents (and family pets) objected to the numerous plastic discs ricocheting throughout the house. Disc recovery was always a chore as no telling where they would end up when fired outside and a good percentage of my indoor shots would end up in my mom's vacuum cleaner bag. This toy, like BB guns and clackers, posed a tremendous threat of eye injury and was eventually discontinued much to the dismay of firepower enthusiasts everywhere.
Fireball XL5 Spaceship
If you followed the supermationation series Fireball XL5, then you had to have the toy. The capsule detached to "land" on planetary surfaces while the body of the ship remained in "orbit". It even has jet cycles inside in case Steve Zodiac or Venus wanted to go for a spin!
Fightin' man from head to toe! A guy with a crew cut and a scar on his face had to be the very embodiment of suburban testosterone! All boys worth their mettle wanted to be just like Joe and many imaginary adventures allowed them to do just that. Joe did many important things...defending the free world from the Godless Communists, taking care of those pesky Third World insurgents and exploring the reaches of outer space in his sliding plastic door Mercury capsule, just to name a few.
Alas with the passing of time, GI Joe was reduced in size from the original 12'' to 5 1/2'' but the same kick-ass spirit that made him great is still evident. Recently the 12'' action figure has made a comeback as soldiers of various elite units. Joe may now wear an Aussie bush hat, among other things, but he's still an all-American hero!
Magic 8 Ball
It knows all & speaks in riddles! The Magic 8 Ball never quite said what you'd want it to. Often when the mystic response to a question wasn't what you wanted, you could simply shake the ball and turn it up again. Eventually it would say what you wanted it to. People are kind of like that too, huh? Sometimes a kid could abuse the toy so much that it would hemmorage the blue liquid and it's answers would be silenced forever.
Banana Seat Chopper Bicycle!
Just the thing to "peel out" on or do "wheelies". Modern mountain style bikes just dont have the wheelie potential that the banana seaters did. Probably for safety reasons. Today, the rider's center of gravity is forward between the wheels. The banana seaters center of gravity was over the rear wheel. This also allowed for "walking", the ability to ride a bike on the rear wheel with the front wheel off the ground for a distance. My friend Dan made a 1'-2' chopper fork extension. One day after a particularly mean wheelie, the bike came down and the chopper fork cracked in half sending him flying forward. Other accessories included the "sissy bar" which extended up from the rear of the seat, and "lemon peelers", slick tires that aided in your skid mark making abilities.
One of the coolest GI Joe toys ever. Maybe one of the coolest toys period! This Mercury capsule fit Joe to a tee and had a sliding plastic hatch so Joe could check out the happenings in outer space. If you owned one did you splash it down in a swimming pool? Most kids did which I'm sure speeded up their demise. Recently on the Antique Road Show, one brought around $200. Let's hit the attic!
M1 Carbine Replica BB Gun
A mighty piece of firepower indeed! Boys got their 2nd Amendment primer with this one. Made by Crosman Arms Co., the original M1 carbine BB gun had a stock that was crafted from real wood and had a lathed metal barrel. No plastic and stamped metal here. It looked and felt pretty darn close to military issue. I would carry mine wearing the rigid type OD green GI kepi. Many a mock assault would take place in the woods behind our subdivision...not without the occasional casualties. I don't recommend doing this today kids, we were lucky we still have our eyesight!
School Fad: Clackers
Perhaps the biggest school fad toy of the 1960's, clackers separated the joes from the pros. Basically, this testicular looking device consisted of two colored acrylic cast balls connected with a cord with the object being the ability to hit (clack) them back and forth. The timeless simplicity of the design harkened back to the time when similiar devices, bolos, were used by early humans for hunting. If used improperly, both could be equally devastating. Once a kid gained sufficient skill to "clack" his clackers for a sustained amount of time, he would instantly gain status in the kid world. Trouble is clackers could be manufactured in various qualities and sometimes they were known to shatter sending acrylic shards all over the place. Case in point are the clackers I can remember being sold locally at Wacker's Dime Store. They were not labeled with safety warnings...they were not even packaged. They were sold from a big pile that the kids would rummage through to find just the right color, often creating massive tangles in the cords. I'm sure entrepreneurs used Clear Cast (acrylic kit responsible for tacky homemade paperweights) to cash in on the fad. The tendency to shatter and their more obvious use as a weapon also sent this toy to the graveyard of memorable 1960's toys.
School Fad: Duncan Butterfly Yo-Yo
Another fad toy that most kids ended up taking to school. Just don't get caught doing tricks like "walk the dog" or "around the world" or the teacher would take them up! Duncan Yo-Yo, a major player in the yo-yo world, held national competitions to see who could do the best tricks. They produced just about every kind of yo-yo you could possibly want and even made one that lit up in the dark that ran off a centrifugal battery device. Much like Frisbees would be during later college years, possession of a really neat yo-yo and having the skills to go with it conferred upon a kid an unmistakably cool mystique.