Monday, September 06, 2010

Dad's favorite retro toys

Hello, my name is Darrin Vindiola from DadsDish.com.  This is the first of hopefully many posts that myself and the lovely Pam intend to author and cross post on each others blogs.  For our inaugural topic, we've chosen to blog about favorite retro toys from our youth.  So without any further ado.. on to the post!


It was the spring of 1986, and Nintendo Entertainment Systems were taking the country by storm.  After spending endless hours playing with various friends video game systems, I decided it was time for me to posses one of these technological wonders!  I mowed lawns and performed odd jobs all summer long, until I had earned enough money to finally buy one for myself.  I loved the fact that I no longer had to burn a quarter every time I wanted to play a video game.

After a few months passed, I came to the realization that I wasn't getting outside very much anymore.  In fact, there were lots of things I was doing a lot less of.  Riding my bike, playing ball, and fishing, were all taking a back seat to video games. Not long after that, a friend came over one weekend to spend the night, and he brought a new Nintendo basketball game for us to play.  When he showed it to me I laughed and said "Hey! Now we don't have to play real basketball anymore.  We can just play it on Nintendo from the couch!"  We both cracked up, but I remember how profound that statement sounded to me even at the age of sixteen.

I personally believe that the introduction of home video gaming systems into the American household, forever altered the way that most kids play, socialize, and use their imaginations.  When I sit back and take a look at the types of toys available to kids these days, I actually feel a bit sorry for them.  Let me share with you, a few different toys I enjoyed as a child that spurred creativity, imagination, problem solving, and yes.. even physical fitness.


Cowboys and Indians
Cowboys and Indians will always hold a special place in my heart.  At any given time, my brother and I literally had hundreds of these little plastic guys lying about.  We lived out our adventures through them, and our house was a world that provided endless possibilities for epic battles, odysseys and expeditions.  A pile of blankets or towels, a couch with pillows, or the vastness of the backyard, all provided excellent landscapes for all of the above listed scenarios. 

Basically everything about the way we played with these little guys, was fueled by imagination.  Predetermined story lines, battle strategy, or exactly who was good and bad, were not spoon fed to us from comics, television, or players guides.  And the Indians were not automatically made out to be the bad guys either!  I remember one of my brothers friends coming over to play with us one afternoon when I was about 5 years old.  From the get go, he wanted to use cowboys and army men to conquer the "evil"  Indians.  I distinctly remembering being upset about it, and telling him that the Indians were peaceful,  and it was the cowboys who needed hanging! 

And talk about a durable toy!  I don't know how many times various Cowboys or Indians would go through the washing machine and dryer, get run over by our bikes or the old man's Ford, and even attacked by our Beagle.  They might have been a little worse for wear, but were still totally usable, and their tribulations actually added character to them. How many toys these days could even stand up to a fraction of that abuse?  They were also very convenient and mobile.  Many items were considered to be kid contraband in school and church, and toys were one of them.  Cowboys and Indians were small enough to be easily smuggled, played with inconspicuously, and quickly hidden.  (Not that I'd ever recommend doing this kids)

I bought my son some cowboys and Indians once when he was very young, and sadly he showed little to no interest in them. During that time of his childhood, he was infatuated with anything Pokemon or Spider-Man related.  I can't remember seeing a child play with Cowboys and Indians for several decades now.  I'm sure they do, but I wouldn't go buying stock in the company that still makes them.  Every time I walk by a set of cowboys and Indians in the store, I want to snatch the package right off of the shelf and take them home with me.  It's funny how such a simple toy can garner such positive and happy feelings that have stuck with me for an entire lifetime.


Hacky Sack
Every boy I knew (and many a girl) in the 80's owned a Hacky Sack.  A Hacky Sack resembles a small beanbag or jugglers ball.  The term Hacky Sack is a generalized name for "Foot Bag" which is also a hobby and sport enjoyed all over the world.  In short, the point of playing Hacky Sack is to keep the foot bag off of the ground, and in the air, by means of using only your feet. 

There were several ways to play Hacky Sack, but the most fun for me was with a large group.  As kids, we would form what is known amongst players as a "Hack Circle", and would commence to keep the Hacky Sack from touching the ground.  Basically, you accomplish this by kicking the foot bag with any part of your foot or leg.  Hands are not allowed to touch the foot bag except when tossing the foot bag back into play after it hits the ground.  

Incentive to keep us from touching the foot bag with our hands was actually a form of punishment we instated.  If you got caught touching the foot bag with your hand in any way, you would have to turn around, facing away from the rest of the group. Then, the person directly across from you got to throw the foot bag as hard as they could at you!  Lots of kids who couldn't keep their hands off of the foot bag would play with their hands in their pockets, or behind their backs.  Then there were guys that prided themselves in never touching the Hacky Sack with their hands, even when they needed to serve to another player.  One fella I knew had a signature move of putting the foot bag between his feet, doing a hand stand, and tossing it up in the air back into the Hack circle!

Since Hacky Sacks are small, soft, and pliable, they can easily be taken anywhere.  You don't need much room to play, so the world is basically your playground.  If you didn't happen to have anyone else to play with, you could easily entertain yourself by trying to set personal records for how long you could keep the Hacky Sack in play, or by developing trick moves.  In fact, playing Hacky Sack solo was absolutely necessary for getting more skilled at playing.

Going along with one of my mantra's "older is better", Hacky Sack's like so many older toys were made to last!  This red and tan Hacky Sack you see here is from 1978, and is made from pig skin.  I occasionally apply a little mink oil to it, and there's no sign of it wearing out anytime soon.  My kiddos and I kick it around on occasion, until my knees and feet start begging me to stop.

Playing Hacky Sack was very much a social game steeped in camaraderie, which for a shy kid such as myself, benefited me immensely.  There were times when we had as little as two players, and sometimes as many as a dozen, all focused on keeping the foot bag from hitting the ground.  Anyone could join in on the fun, and often did just so.  Many times at recess, it was not at all odd to see a hack circle consisting of jocks, headbangers, nerds, break dancers, cheerleaders, band geeks, and even the occasional teacher who was still very much young at heart.  With big groups, our main goal was for each person in the circle to kick the foot bag at least one time before it hit the ground (much easier said than done).  When this was accomplished, the feat was celebrated with hoops and hollers. When the foot bag would go around the circle a second time with every one successfully passing it twice, we'd all go ballistic.. and the foot bag would inevitably get kicked astray or dropped during the excitement.

Hacky Sack has to be one of the worlds most perfect toys.  After all, any toy that can promote balance, coordination, physical activity, and good social skills, is truly a wonder in itself.




In the mid 70's, The Marx toy company designed this variation of their "Big Wheel" that they first introduced in 1969.  My old man bought me a Green Machine when I was about six years old.  It was my first taste of independence that a kid usually feels when they get their first bike, and later again when getting their first car.  Now that I had wheels, the open road was mine to explore!  Well.. at least to the end of our driveway.

The Green Machine was the bad boy version of the Big Wheel.  Its coolest feature had to be the swivel action rear wheels which allowed you to perform super side skids, and spin outs that could spray Mom's flower bed with gravel from ten feet away!  I remember actually treating this toy like it was my car.  I'd tell my schoolmates stuff like "I've gotta go home and clean up The Green Machine".  With a certain girl I used to play with in first grade, I'd use the line "Come over to my house and play..  I cleaned my Green Machine up just for you!"


What's funny, is that I soon found myself adopting somewhat of a bad boy attitude because of The Green Machine.  I was only allowed to travel as far as the end of our driveway, but on a couple of occasions I strayed down the sidewalk to the stop sign at the end of the street.  Once I even turned the corner, and went all the way to my school and back, which was a half a block away!  I also started developing a desire to chase the neighbors dogs and cats if they strayed too close to our property.  Of course, there was no sneaking up on anybody with a Green Machine.  The hard plastic wheels made a deafening racket as they rolled along the pavement.  Many times I couldn't even hear my mom calling me for dinner as I rode up and down the driveway.

I've heard rumors that there are some adult sized versions of the Green machine available for purchase.  If this is true, and they are affordable, you may just see some video on my blog of me tearing the pavement up just like I did when I was a six year old.

Well folks, trust me when I say that I could go on and on for days about more great toys from my youth.  However,  I'll give it a rest for now and release "Go retro" back into the hands of my ever engaging blogger buddy Pam.  I had a great time reminiscing about some of the more innocent times of my life, and I hope Pam had just as much fun.  Make sure to read Pam's great guest dish at my blog.. Dad's Dish.

9 comments:

Marlene said...

On the Nintendo....I totally remember getting engrossed in Super Mario Brothers....and finally breathing a sigh of relief when I had "killed" those "Hammer Brothers" (the hammer throwing turtles that were next to impossible to get around). I saved the Princess, and then felt totally let down that it was over...lol.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Great post - I still have my old cowboys and Indians in a shoebox in the loft.

Pam@GoRetro said...

Great stuff, Darrin! I had a Big Wheel and think I remember the Green Machine...and that it was a souped up version of the Big Wheel geared towards boys. It's sad to hear that not so many kids are into cowboys and indians and other action type figures. As you said, such a simple (and cheap) toy set like that can bring about so much imagination. I loved my Atari 2600, but I used to feel guilty about playing it on a nice day...and that was usually when my mother would give me a gentle reminder to turn it off and go outside, which I always did. It's sadly true that the home video game revolution changed the way children played and interacted forever.

This was fun, and fun seeing the comments on both sites. Looking forward to sharing more posts!

CarlChipp said...

Hey Darrin,
I'm sure we played many hours of cowboy & indians together (When Danny would let you join in). I hope I wasn't the friend that wanted to wipe out the 'evil indians'. If so I plead youthful brainwashed ignorance!

Amanda By Night said...

My boyfriend writes about retro video gaming for a living (well, a partial living) but I never got past the Atari 2600. Video games were the shizz-nit back then. I also spent many bright sunny days locked inside my darkened bedroom so I could give Video Pinball a whirl! :)

Great post Darrin!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at goretro.blogspot.com could post it.

Thanks,
Daniel

Darrin.. said...

Marlene: Ugh.. I know what you mean, but then there was Legend of Zelda!!

Pammy: I played a lot of 2600, but it was different from NES. We never dreamed of spending all day in doors when there was so much adventure to be had outside!! We'll definitely have to collaborate again very soon!!

Carl aka Junior: No brother.. you weren't the kiddo who was dead set against massacring my Indian tribes. LOL!

Amanda: OOF! I had an addiction for a short while to Space Invaders!! Thanks for the kind words!

Anonymous said...

"Dad's"?! I had a hackey sack(although, not really sure why as I couldn't play to save my life) and we played C/I out on the street when we were kids!

The Best said...

AMEN! we limit video games and TV too! We were looking for the best retro toy website and came across yours.

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