Belated Top Five List: Best Christmas toys ever

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Technically, this list is not late, as this is the ninth day of Christmas. In any case, I didn’t see the inspiration for it until today. Also, it’s a slow news day.

My fellow former Cosmic Ha-Ha Dave Moniz posted the above photo on Facebook last week, with this caption:

Patrick and Monica somehow found this vintage “electric baseball” set. What a lovely Christmas gift. Unlike its first cousin, “electric football’ this actually works without little plastic men running in hideous circles or clumping in immovable scrums.

My first thought was, I’d like to try that game out. My second was, I hated to see him run down electric football, which frankly, I liked better than real football. Any of y’all remember those? You’d put your little plastic players on the line of scrimmage, with one of them holding the little felt football, and hit the switch, and the whole stadium started vibrating like mad, causing the men — whose bases were perched up on thin, flexible blades of clear plastic, would start moving independently, one hoped toward the goal line. But really, they went wherever they wanted — which quite frequently was backward.

It was a pretty wild toy, both in concept and execution.

Actually, here I am describing it like something from the distant past, and apparently they still sell these things! Which was a surprise to me. But if you’ve never seen one of these in action, here’s video of a fancy modern version.

Bottom line, I loved my electric football game.

Which got me to thinking: What would be my Top Five Toys Ever, with an emphasis on those received from Santa. Here’s a hastily assembled list, which I may amend as we proceed:

  1. My BB gun — To be specific like the kid in the movie, my Daisy Model 1894 authentic saddle gun. This was probably the greatest surprise of my childhood, as my mother had always assured me I would never get one because — and she actually used this line — I would put my eye out. This was a beautiful rifle, the metal parts a nicely blued steel, with the stock rendered in plastic that at least looked like wood from a distance. The moment I found it under the tree was special: Santa had laid out my new sleeping bag that I was expecting, and the rifle was slipped inside it. This, of course, proved the existence of Santa, because I got it when we were living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and I don’t think there was a store on the entire continent of South America where my parents could have bought this. I had a lot of fun with it, and never did put my eye out.
  2. Any Official Boy Scout gear — All through my Cub and Boy Scout years, nothing could top any gift that had an official Scout logo on it. These were items that a guy had to have to make his way in the world, to Be Prepared (I had never heard of the Zombie Apocalypse, but I instinctively sensed that every boy should be prepared for it), and the Scout emblem, to my mind at least, spoke unfailingly of quality. I received a bunch of stuff from this category over the years. Some items that stand out are my official Cub Scout pocketknife, and my official Boy Scout mess kit and canteen (which I think I got the same Christmas as the BB gun and sleeping bag, so I cleaned up that year).
  3. Tabletop hockey — As I worked on the list, I thought of something I liked better than electric football. That was the non-electric hockey game my brother and I had — this kind, which had the metal rods that you’d move in and out to move the players across the “ice,” and which you would spin to make them shoot the puck. We had some pretty furious, active games with this, which we would play for hours. I still remember with shame how petulant I got the first time my brother — who is six years younger — beat me at this. But mostly, it was fun.
  4. Cowboy six-shooters — This is a whole category because I had a lot of them in the ’50s and ’60s, but I’m going to zero in on one particular product. Do you remember the Mattel Shootin’ Shell system? The Shootin’ Shell was a three-part piece of ammunition. It had a brass shell with a spring inside, a gray plastic slug that you’d push into the shell until it clicked, and a little round paper cap that you’d stick on the back of the brass shell. When the gun’s hammer hit the back of the shell, the shock would cause the spring to eject the little gray slug out the barrel of the gun, and the cap would go off to provide a semi-realistic sound. Here’s video. Anyway, at one point Mattel released a mechanical adversary with which to have gunfights. He was this villainous-looking little mannequin who, when you pulled a string, would start to draw. If he fired before you, you were “dead.” If you managed to draw, fire and hit him with your Shootin’ Shell slug before his arm got to a certain point, his arm would stop. No, I am not making this up. I was able to shoot from the hip and stop him. And yes, boys of my generation were really into violent toys…
  5. The see-through submarine — This was another one that we got when we lived in Ecuador, which speaks to extra exertions by my parents — they no doubt arranged to get these things from the Base Exchange up in the Panama Canal Zone, via the monthly C-47 that brought nonperishable groceries down to U.S. personnel. Anyway, this was an impressive toy. I had forgotten the name of it, but Google has identified it as the Remco Barracuda Atomic Sub. It was about three feet long, and had a motor that moved it on discreet wheels along the floor (water would have destroyed it), while it automatically fired torpedoes out of the bow. The coolest part, though, was that it had a transparent top deck that you could remove, and move around the little blue plastic crewmen inside. For whatever reason, I seem to recall you could also rearrange the bulkheads — which made it more like a Napoleonic-era warship than an actual sub. A friend of mine, also a Navy brat, had a huge toy aircraft carrier made by the same company. It had a pretty powerful catapult for launching aircraft, but that’s not what we used it for. This kid also had a construction set for building skyscrapers. We’d build a skyscraper, and then launch leftover plastic girders at the building from about six feet away to knock it down. A lot of trouble, but eminently worth the effort.

Honorable mention: Hot Wheels. These came along a little late for me, but I had an awesome time playing with my brother’s Hot Wheels — and my sons’, and my grandson’s (every time I go into Walmart today, I have to fight against the temptation to buy him another — they’re only 94 cents apiece, and they’re awesome!). I had grown up on Matchbox cars and thought they were pretty cool, but Hot Wheels just blew them away. Matchbox would later ape the fast-wheel technology, but they were just playing catch-up from then on.

Yep… guns and war toys and fast cars. But I was an actual kid, not a hypothetical one, and that’s what I liked, and I was lucky enough to come up before these things were thoroughly frowned upon. So there.

Now… what are the vintage toys that make you wax nostalgic?

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57 thoughts on “Belated Top Five List: Best Christmas toys ever

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    And yeah, I know I’ve written in the past about the BB gun and the Shootin’ Shell Outlaw guy, but never as part of a Top Five List, so get outta my face, pardner!…

    Reply
  2. Brad Warthen

    Obviously, I was sort of limiting my definition for this list. As toys go, it’s hard to beat a yo-yo, or one of my Dad’s old cast-off tennis balls — which even a little kid can knock a long way with a wooden bat.

    I was thinking mostly of major gift items that would bowl a kid over on Christmas morning. And I steered away from “bicycle” as too generic….

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen

      Little kids my age were the last to be issued actual solid-wood, pint-sized baseball bats. Those just a bit younger weren’t allowed to touch anything but those extremely unsatisfying hollow plastic affairs…

      And I never knocked anyone on the head with one. You know why? Because I wasn’t a little psycho…

      Reply
  3. Norm Ivey

    1. Crosman Powermaster 760 air rifle–it fired BBs and .177 lead pellets, 1974. Never put an eye out, but I still remember that awful feeling I had after I shot a bird, and that’s why I never took up hunting.
    2. Eldon slot car track with interchangeable muscle car bodies, 1967. Any number of other toy car related gifts could go in this slot like Hot Wheels, Matchbox, SSP Smash-up Derby set and on and on.
    3. My little brother’s Legos, 1970. They were his, but I played with them more. I still build. I got the new Yellow Submarine set for myself this year.
    4. Screamer bicycle from Sears Roebuck. I found really cool ram’s horn handlebars to replace the awkward ones that came with it, 1971.
    5. Creepy Crawlers Everything Maker, 1970. One of those toys that you couldn’t sell today. I constantly was burning myself on it.
    HM1: Tyco HO train set for my birthday, 1967. I still have the original set, And I have continued in the hobby albeit in O gauge.
    HM2: Not really a toy, but my sister gave me a small stamp collecting outfit in 1973. I learned more about the geography and cultures of the world and about US history from that hobby than I ever did from any high school course. No longer actively collect, but still pull out my albums and look at them now and then.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, I forgot my Lionel train set! I had slot cars, too, but it never worked all that reliably.

      By the way, before Christmas, my grandson, 4, kept saying he wanted an “eclectic train.” I thought that was sophisticated of him…

      Reply
        1. Bryan Caskey

          Nice! My five year old is starting to get into model trains after Santa brought him a Polar Express train kit. The only problem is the tracks are cheap and don’t fit together very well, so there’s lots of “track maintenance” as we like to say in the house.

          There’s also the issue of where the railroad setup would be. Currently, all the space in our house is bespoke.

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            The good sets are expensive, and we thought our grandson a little young for the responsibility of a good set — not least because his favorite thing to do with cars, trucks and trains is something he calls “crashing and booming.”

            Also, we had fi”nished Christmas shopping when he started talking about “eclectic trains.

            He seems to be pleased with what he got (which includes a new battery-powered Thomas the Tank Engine). We haven’t heard him mention the eclectic trains since Dec. 25…

            Reply
            1. Norm Ivey

              They are ridiculously expensive. A single Lionel add-on passenger car for the Polar Express set can cost $80.00, and it’s just a hunk of plastic and a little bit of metal. There are locomotives that are priced over $1000. That’s more than my first two real cars combined.

              I’ve tried building permanent layouts a couple of times, but either I wind up needing the space, or losing interest temporarily. Now I just set them up–usually around the holidays–with the understanding that I will take them down after awhile. I actually prefer it that way–it gives me the opportunity to redesign the layout whenever I like.

              And let’s be honest here. We get our kids train sets for us as much as we do for them. So while I ostensibly received a train set for my 7th birthday, it was actually Daddy who played with it most.

              Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      As to Norm’s confession above…

      I shot a bird with my BB gun once — ONCE.

      I saw it fall from the tree into thick brush. For some time I heard it cheeping its distress while I tried unsuccessfully to find it.

      I felt horrible about it. I still feel horrible about it.

      And I never took up hunting, either…

      Reply
      1. Norm Ivey

        Once was all it took for me as well. I found it and held it in my hand while it flapped one wing. It looked small and pathetic and lifeless lying there. Miserable feeling.

        Reply
      2. Dave Crockett

        Same story with a pellet rifle at 14. Took the back of its head off. Never shot at another living thing again.

        Reply
      3. Bart

        Same here. It was heart wrenching knowing I had killed an innocent creature that had done me no harm but only brought joy and beauty into the world. I do confess without guilt to using my BB gun on stray dogs that terrorized our cats but not to the extent of wounding or endangering their lives. A pop in the butt usually does the trick. If it didn’t, the animal control officer was called.

        I watched a childhood friend throw his BB gun away when he shot and killed a bird. It literally changed his life.

        I have been hunting one time in my life and didn’t get a shot at anything much to my relief because I don’t know if I could have pulled the trigger or not. All I knew afterwards that I would never go hunting again. It is not my place to criticize hunters who eat what they kill or give the meat to an organization that uses it to feed hungry people. A local boy’s home always had meat because of deer and boar hunters.

        However, when it comes to trophy hunting, no way will I ever agree with or support it. Too many of God’s creatures have been killed and their heads hung on walls to satisfy a so-called sportsman’s ego or whatever it is that drives an individual to hunt down and kill any animal just for the sport of it.

        Sorry for the soapbox, trophy hunters are a real sore point with me.

        Reply
        1. Bryan Caskey

          Counterpoint:

          “Before, when there was hunting, we wanted to protect those animals because we knew we earned something out of them,” said Jimmy Baitsholedi Ntema, a villager in his 60s. “Now we don’t benefit at all from the animals. The elephants and buffaloes leave after destroying our plowing fields during the day. Then, at night, the lions come into our kraals.”

          Also, it looks like a Zimbabwe Game Park may be having to pay marksmen to cull about 200 lions due to the lack of hunters since 2015.

          “One of Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife reserves, the Bubye Valley Conservancy, recently announced that it was considering culling up to 200 lions as the cats have become increasingly overpopulated. The wildlife reserve said its current population of around 500 lions is unsustainable due to the dramatic decline in hunters, possibly caused by the controversy over Cecil, a lion killed near Hwange National Park last year. Bubye officials say that without hunters to help manage the lion population, they are considering either hiring marksmen to shoot some of the animals, or capturing them and donating the cats to other reserves. Bubye has historically held one of the largest lion populations in Zimbabwe.”

          So the end result is that lions will be shot, and the park will be paying for it, rather than receiving money for it from game hunters. I know they also say that they could alternatively capture and donate them, but my guess is that it would be even more expensive to do that. So the the end result is the same: the lions end up dead anyway but the country ends up poorer.

          So…cui bono?

          Reply
          1. Mark Stewart

            I think they both suck. I have no problem with hunting or fishing for food/sport. However, when it is just about the need to preen even more than the pursuit of sport it’s not of interest to me.

            Sport fishing is mostly just an excuse to buy a bigger boat to impress your friends, colleagues, clients etc. while one pursues trophy fish as a pastime. A lark. Big game hunting is even more about bragging rights.

            For the record, I am in favor of bigger boats. And getting outside – especially with friends, colleagues, clients – and family. It’s the trophy killing that leaves me cold and disinterested.

            Reply
          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, I think the difference between fishing and big-game hunting is very clear.

            Fish are cold-blooded. Like the aforementioned alligators and snakes.

            That may seem arbitrary, but it works for me…

            Reply
            1. Mark Stewart

              Have you see the shimmer of a leaping billfish? They may be fish but they are more somewhere between sharks and Orcas in their majesty.

              We should all be more magnanimous to the world’s apex predators. We can do that.

              Reply
                1. Bryan Caskey

                  Good gracious, that’s awful!

                  I only made it through one minute before having to turn it off. Not only is her voice terrible, whatever instrument that was sounded like the bastard child of an accordion and synthesizer. That’s the most awful music I think I’ve ever heard.

                  Bobby D. wiped her eyes with his cover of the song.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Yep. According to my family tree at Ancestry, Lotte Lenya is a 5th cousin 4 times removed from the topic of favorite toys.

                  For the record, Lotte Lenya would not make my list of Top Five favorite toys.

                  Not even Daniela Bianchi, who appeared in the same Bond movie as Ms. Lenya, makes that list.

                  But she comes a LOT closer. For one thing, she doesn’t keep a switchblade in her shoe. There are other reasons…

                3. Bryan Caskey

                  Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait. The old frumpy Soviet woman in From Russia With Love is the singer in that piece? First of all, wow.

                  Second of all, it makes sense why her voice is so bad. She works for SPECTRE. Everyone knows that SPECTRE folks can’t sing worth a lick.

                4. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I know. The connections from that song go to some weird places.

                  I had to sit next to Blofeld one night at the governor’s house at Port Mahon. I didn’t mind him beating the time to Locatelli, but he kept doing it on the 1 and 3 instead of the 2 and 4.

                  Even his cat knew better…

          3. Bart

            Actions have consequences. The intrusion of humans on what was once the natural habitat with enough space for lions to live as nature intended and with the intrusion, space was reduced and therefore the animals they hunted for food were no longer as plentiful. In turn, the lion population outgrew the source of their natural food. In order to maintain a balance, it became necessary to cull the lion population and try to do something humans are basically inept at achieving, a balance of nature. When the lions were culled by big game hunters or captured and sent to other preserves or zoos, their food returned in sufficient numbers to maintain a reasonable balance. Now with the uproar over Cecil the Lion and the cessation of big game hunting, once again lions are over-populated and another reduction in their numbers will be required. The example you use is about the only one acceptable to me as long as it is properly controlled which I highly doubt can be done properly. I feel the same about elephant, giraffe, or any other big game trophy hunting. The elephant population is being threatened by ivory poachers but now, even China and Japan are no longer supporting the ivory trade as they once did.

            As for sport fishing, I can attest to the fact that the swordfish and other sought after game/sport fish have diminished greatly over the past few years or at least off the South Carolina coast. My former BIL was a member of a fishing club and on occasion I went with him but I didn’t care for sport fishing at all. Instead of going after trophy fish, I preferred to go to the “Parking Lot” and other locations to catch black bass, red and black snapper, dolphin (not the Flipper type in case some don’t recognize the difference), grouper, and other fish that we cleaned and took home to eat, not mount on a wall. I have no problem with pier fishing or other fishing if the catch is used for food. It is a local industry and provides a decent living for the ones who own boats for charter.

            I guess my convictions about sport/trophy hunting were derived in a round about way. At one time, coastal South Carolina was one of the largest stopovers for the migratory route for ducks, geese, etc. It had one of the largest wild turkey populations in the nation along with an abundance of wildlife that no other state could rival with the exception of the Chesapeake Bay area. But, over harvesting of game along with destruction of their natural habitats while migrating has reduced the population to a fraction of what it once was. When harvesters, I don’t insult legitimate hunters by calling them hunters, would use guns that could bring down hundreds of ducks and other water fowl in one shot, eventually it almost wiped out the migratory game in South Carolina especially along their coastal routes.

            My position is quite simple. If you are going to harvest game and use it for food as the primary reason for hunting, go for it. If it is simply to shoot a trophy buck or a mountain goat for sport and to have its head mounted and hung on a wall, that I have no use for.

            I speak for myself only, not for anyone else and no, I am not a member or supporter of PETA. There are limits. Hope I made some sense and provided a reasonable response to your question.

            Reply
            1. Bryan Caskey

              You certainly provided a reasonable response. I only posted the counterpoint because I like to see people explain their positions. Maybe a little bit of it is the lawyer in me cross-examining you a little, but I’ve found that there’s nothing better than rubbing up against the opposing point of view to sharpen and clarify why you believe your own point of view is right.

              I’m a very infrequent fisherman. The last time I went fishing, I was with my 5 y/o son and we used a cane pole, a worm, and a bobber. He (we) caught two fish over a period of about two hours, and it was marvelous.

              Before that, the last time I went fishing was for my bachelor party (14 years ago). Rather than go out for some wild night of drinking, I had all my groomsmen go deep-sea fishing with me off Patriot’s Point in Charleston. We had two boats: one for the young guys, and one for all our dads. We had a little competition to see who could catch the most dolphinfish (or as Maturin would call them Coryphaena hippurus).

              The young guys won by just a few lbs. We had the fish all cleaned and taken to a local restaurant on James Island that prepared the fish about six different ways and served it family-style with sides and a cooler of beer on their private back deck overlooking Charleston Harbor. Since we all got to the dock at 5:00AM, we pretty much all fell asleep by 9:00PM that night.

              Probably about the Platonic ideal of a day of fishing, I’d say.

              Reply
            2. Bryan Caskey

              “It had one of the largest wild turkey populations in the nation along with an abundance of wildlife that no other state could rival with the exception of the Chesapeake Bay area. But, over harvesting of game along with destruction of their natural habitats while migrating has reduced the population to a fraction of what it once was.”

              Yep. That’s why you can’t hardly find any wild quail in SC anymore. They’ve been all hunted out. Sure, you can go on a “quail hunt” with pen-raised ones, but it’s not hunting. I’ve read some stories about some landowners doing some serious conservation work getting large tracts of land back in shape for wild quail, but it’s a long way back from how prolific Gentleman Bob was in the 1950’s.

              That’s mostly why I content myself with shooting clay pigeons and wine bottles hanging from the yardarm.

              Reply
  4. Norm Ivey

    One of us got an electric football game one year. I don’t remember playing with it after Christmas morning. And we always had cap guns as well, but I don’t remember them being Christmas gifts.

    Oh, a football in 1968. Wore it out and had to relace it myself. Loved that ball. I wonder what happened to it? I still had it in high school in the late 70s….

    Reply
  5. Dave Crockett

    I guess I was always a cut out to be a geek.

    The two best things I remember receiving would have been at Christmas in 1963: a pair of Dick Tracy 2-way wrist radios (the ‘wrist’ part was just a speaker/microphone connected by a wire down your sleeve to the radio clipped on your belt) and a GE Project Transmitter (which sent a signal that could be picked up on almost any AM radio in the house). By 1966, I’d already earned my first amateur radio novice license as WN4DFW. To this day, I remain WB4DFW with an Extra Class license.

    73, y’all.

    Reply
    1. Norm Ivey

      We had electronics project kit one year that let us build an AM transmitter. It reached all the way to the next room sometimes. The electric eye alarm was my favorite project.

      Reply
  6. Bart

    I guess this list really dates me but my favorites were the original Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and the plastic bricks with all of the components to build a house or anything the imagination could conjure. My parents couldn’t afford much so they bought the things they thought would be fun and instructive at the same time. We made some amazing things with Tinker Toys and building a log cabin with the Lincoln Logs was total fun for me. Then putting together a brick house with windows, doors, and a roof gave me a sense of achievement.

    Maybe those early Christmas gifts are the reason one of my favorite shows on television is Treehouse Masters. It still brings out the kid in me and at the same time, the enjoyment of watching how they use their skills and engineering techniques to accomplish some amazing feats of construction.

    Reply
    1. Norm Ivey

      Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Erector sets–we had all those. You might be thinking of American Bricks or Block City if the bricks weren’t Legos. I have some of those now that I picked up at garage sales last year.

      Reply
  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    A Christmas story about the year we got the submarine…

    In Ecuador we lived in the spacious upstairs of a duplex that was owned by our downstairs landlord, a captain in the Ecuadorean Navy. The U.S. consul general lived in a Spanish-style mansion about three blocks away.

    That Christmas — 1964 I want to say — he and his wife went back to the States for the holidays. They asked my parents if we would house-sit. We were glad to.

    A note about life in that place and time: Houses normally did not have yards around their houses. Houses were surrounded by walls about six feet high, and the walls would only be about three feet away from the houses at the sides and back, with a few feet more room in the front. The ground in the space between house and walls was covered in concrete or stone. I knew only one kid who had a yard — the same one with the aircraft character, whose Dad was a CPO who worked with my Dad — and we had a lot of fun in it. But I do recall going out in his yard once and seeing my arm so covered with mosquitoes that it looked like I had a long-sleeved shirt on. Which may be why people didn’t have yards.

    Well, the consul’s place didn’t have a yard, it had grounds, surrounded by an even higher-than-usual wall (or fence; I forget exactly). The grounds took up much of a city block.

    The house was really something — three stories, topped by those rounded red tiles you find in the Mediterranean. It was built around a central courtyard, open to the sky, with a fountain in it. Bedrooms and other rooms opened off the cloister that surrounded the courtyard, and there were more rooms upstairs. The sort of place where Don Diego/Zorro would have lived.

    The six of us — our two maids (all middle-class people had maids there) came with — had a lot of room to rattle around in.

    Best part — across the spacious driveway and up some steps was a pool with a good-sized poolhouse. Of course, December in Ecuador is perfect pool weather, just like the rest of the year.

    Anyway, we set up our tree in the entrance hall of the house. I think my brother and I were sleeping in a room upstairs on Christmas night, and the stairs came down straight into the entrance hall.

    We woke up while it was still dark and charged downstairs and started playing boisterously with the toys — the submarine, and a set of Lincoln Logs, are the two items I particularly recall — until our parents got up and told us to go back to bed.

    It was 1 a.m. We had assumed it was about 6…

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I may have exaggerated the height of the consul’s house. As I think harder about it, I don’t think it was three stories. In fact, it wasn’t even fully two. The house was big, but most of it — as in, three sides of the central courtyard — was on one story. The front had some upstairs rooms that I don’t think were much used. Then there was a staircase from those second-floor rooms that rose to a single locked door — which I assume was an attic. I didn’t think much about the locked door — there was so much else to explore…

      Reply
  8. Bryan Caskey

    Let’s see, my top five best Christmas gifts are (in no particular order):

    1. (Going along the scouting line) I got a great tent one year when I really started going on backpacking trips before the big trip to Philmont Scout Ranch. Inside the tent were all sorts of camping related accessories. It was great.

    2. Going a bit younger, I got a very cool original laser tag set that was tons of fun. We used to run around in the backyard, the woods/swamp behind the house, and have a blast.

    3. Going back to being a bit older (16), my dad handed me down his old over/under Browning shotgun to me. It was a big deal, because all growing up, that was my dad’s gun. His giving it to me was a huge acknowledgement that I was an adult, more than getting my driver’s license or driving, or anything else that is a typical milestone.

    I think it was so important because it was actually his, and partly because it was what I learned to really shoot on.

    Even though I don’t shoot it that often anymore, it’s still a very special gun.

    4. Going back way younger, Legos were always a great Christmas gift for me. They were really my main toy as a kid. I would spend hours playing with them, sorting through the huge plastic storage bin we kept them in, building spaceships, and setting up battle scenes.

    5. In a related toy, I used to collect little knights in armor figurines and would always get a few around Christmas. They were about the size of those plastic green army men, but instead of being just molded green plastic, these knights were painted silver for their armor, and then has colorful stickers for their shields and plumes.

    I used to set them up with battle scenes, and then in true kid fashion, I would string dental floss from my bed post down to a chair in a sort of “zip-line” and have the knights zip down, knocking over other knights, sort like the ol’ Errol Flynn move with the chandelier. (I used to get in trouble for misuse of the dental floss, but it was one of those situations where it was better to seek forgiveness than permission.)

    Reply
    1. Norm Ivey

      Dang, everybody keeps reminding me of stuff…

      Bill was a childhood friend who, if I were to hazard a guess, is now in an anti-government militia in the Montana wilderness somewhere. We would set up elaborate dioramas of a battle scene in the dry wash behind my house using those little green army men and all the vehicles, bunkers, trees and other accessories that came with them. Then we would stand just off to the side behind our assigned army and started blasting away with our BB guns. First one to wipe out the other’s army was the winner. The occasional ricochet was just a bonus thrill.

      Reply
  9. Mark Stewart

    Erector sets. But stepping on those sharp little nuts in the pile carpet was worse than stepping on Legos…

    The thing that occupied the most winter indoor time was Lincoln Logs; we would build elaborate forts and then spend hours lobbing “mortar shells” at one another’s fortifications and launchers to the end of one side. Those old style flat, green pine roofing boards were the best. The newer Chinese stuff just can’t compare.

    Reply
  10. Bryan Caskey

    I’ve never taken a shot a living creature with a bb gun. Yeah, I can see how wounding a bird with a bb gun would be a negative experience. One of the cardinal rules of hunting anything is ensure that you take the animal down as quickly and humanely as possible.

    To do that you need to have the right firearm, be the right distance from your target, and be skilled enough to hit your target where you intend to (in a vital area, rather than in a non-vital area)

    Also, no one feels any compassion for animals that aren’t cute and cuddly. Whenever I tell my story about killing an alligator on my first alligator hunt, no one ever says “Oh, that poor alligator! How could you!

    Mostly I like the skill and discipline of marksmanship. I was going to go out shooting my new Christmas present this weekend with the Wife, but the forecast of snow and ice has her thinking second thoughts.

    I can’t wait to put some lead downrange with my new rifle – the back of my hand to cold weather.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I killed a rat once with that BB gun. Had to shoot it a number of times, but I got it. I didn’t feel bad about that, just kind of grossed out.

      I didn’t want to go near it — you know, bubonic plague and such. It was running around in our backyard in Hawaii, which was a beautiful little paradise of a yard, except for the rat. I climbed up on our roof and got right over it and shot down on it, which I assumed would increase the force of impact. Otherwise, I might not have gotten it…

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      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Not wanting to touch it, I forget how I got rid of the rat after whacking it. But I’m sure I did so gingerly. Not only did I assume it was disease ridden, but I couldn’t be 100 percent sure it was dead before picking it up.

        It might just have been mostly dead…

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      2. Bryan Caskey

        Perfect example. No one feels any compassion for rats. It’s like you’re performing a public service by killing them. I’m sure they’re important in the circle of life somewhere, but I fail to see the beauty of God’s creation in a rat the same way I do in say…a butterfly, or even a snake.

        I feel like the main point of God creating snakes was for them to eat all the rats, right?

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        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, now, in my book snakes need killin’, too.

          Although I do feel bad about one I killed once. It was in Jackson, TN. This lady next door had what appeared to me to be a harmless rat snake or something in her back yard and asked me to kill it.

          I was reluctant, but I did the chivalrous thing, to ease her mind. And felt lousy about it.

          She mighta thought the snake deserved it, but I woulda said, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it…”

          unforgiven

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    2. Norm Ivey

      I had to kill a rat in my parents’ bedroom with the BB gun as well. I had forgotten that.

      I get Bryan’s point as to killing cuddly animals. The bird I shot was a wren or a finch of some sort–helpless and unsuspecting. I probably would have felt different if it had been an alligator. You just don’t find many of them in the desert. And I have no objection to hunting. I accompanied a friend–the same one mentioned above–on a deer hunt. The deer rules in Arizona were so restrictive that several of us went out together. One person had a deer tag. Everyone else had mountain lion tags. If anyone got a deer, the tag went on it. Nobody ever got a mountain lion.

      The deer tag regulations were something like this: First, you had to buy a license. Next, you applied to a lottery. If your license was pulled, you were assigned a three-day window during which you could hunt in your region. If you didn’t get a deer in your window, too bad. It seems there may have been a black market for deer tags, but that may have just been talk. My friend Steve had a window during the middle of the week our junior year. He stood up in class and began swearing loudly in order to get a three-day suspension. He didn’t really need to do it; he just thought it was funny.

      I killed a couple rattlesnakes on the patio as a teenager, but when I encountered them in the wild, I let them be.

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    3. Bart

      On the FWIW side of things, I do own several firearms and actually would encourage anyone to own at least one. My prize possession is the single barrel 12 ga. shotgun my Dad gave to me years ago. Going back decades, at one time, the old Excel Bicycle company made shotguns. The one my Dad gave to me is one of the fist ones they made. He used it for turkey shoots back home and it is so good, my Dad would almost always come in no worse than 2nd, usually first. Got to the point other shooters wanted to borrow it if he wasn’t shooting. It still has the wire and old black tar tape around the grip behind the trigger when he broke it over the head of a boar charging him. That was in the mid to late 1930s. I wouldn’t take the wire or tape off for anything and a collector told me to leave it on because it is an integral part of the history of the shotgun.

      Just thought I would share.

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