Toys Found in Packages of Fritos!

OK, here’s something: remember the small toys that used to come in bags of Fritos corn chips? Mom always packed a bag of Fritos in my lunches, the single-serving bags that were sold in six packs. They were packaged in open-top boxes that were wrapped in cellophane, and in there, hidden between the bags, was a small plastic toy. In order to avoid duplicates, an in-store ritual would be performed whereby we’d hold the boxes above our heads, shaking them gently until the prize came into view. Good ol’ Mom. Of course credit must go to Frito-Lay as well, as these simple prizes surely made me a customer for life. I can’t tell you when they started adding the toys, … Continue reading →

Mattel’s Creepy Crawlers

  It seems that my childhood was heavily populated with toys from Wham-O, Hasbro, and Mattel, particularly Mattel. The company was, after-all, responsible for such classic toys as the “Shootin Shell” cap guns, Agent Zero spy gear, and Hot Wheels cars. (and one can’t forget their biggest seller of all, Barbie dolls) But my personal favorite among Mattel’s offerings was undoubtedly the Creepy Crawlers set. Introduced in 1964, Creepy Crawlers were the first toy to make use of Mattel’s “Thingmaker”, a hot plate that was utilized to create all manner of objects. It’s what we used before we had 3D printers to play with. A Creepy Crawlers set consisted of metal molds, bottles of colorful “Plastigoop”, and of course, the … Continue reading →

Space Cards: Life on Other Planets?

  Trading cards, or “bubblegum cards” as they were known, were hugely popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and sci-fi themes were common. This card, #88 in the 88-card “Space Cards” set from Topps, was released 1957, the same year that the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. That event sparked the public imagination on a global scale, as the prospect of human space travel suddenly seemed to be within grasp. It’s interesting to note that Topps released this set not once, not twice, but three times, with the same cards used each time. (with variations) The first release, Space Cards, had a blue back, as did the second release, Target: Moon, which came out a few years later. The … Continue reading →

Yellow Raincoats!

I’m particularly interested in what once was an essential component of any child’s wardrobe: the yellow raincoat. They are a childhood icon, and I’m surely not the only baby boomer that recognizes their nostalgic appeal. But what intrigues me most is that over the past 50 years or so these rubber-coated rain repellers have all but vanished. I dealt in antiques for a number of years, always on the lookout for vintage stuff to resell, and it occurred to me that I had never come across one of them in any shop, garage sale, or estate sale. Those raincoats were made by the zillions, and I’ll bet that at least 90% of the kids I went to elementary school with … Continue reading →

Snappin’ Turtle Mowers

You’re no doubt familiar with the Snapper brand of lawnmowers, but you may not be aware of the curious machine that started it all. Looking like some sort of mid-century hovercraft fantasy, the “Snappin’ Turtle” is said to be the first self-propelled rotary mower. One might expect there to be wheels hidden underneath the stylish body, but that’s not the case. Rather than wheels, you’ll find a wide roller at the back that propels the machine, while the front is fitted with a metal skid that rides over the lawn. It sounds crazy, but apparently the system worked reasonably well. Many of the mowers were also fitted with a “sulky”, a two-wheeled attachment that fastened to the mower. These trailer-like … Continue reading →

Telstar, by the Tornados

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of taking short trips in the car, tagging along with Mom on a myriad of errands. As was the norm in the 1950s and 1960s she was a stay-at-home mom, a “homemaker” as they were called then, so I frequently found myself riding shotgun on runs to the supermarket, hair salon, and department stores. The AM radio would always provide a backdrop for these trips, transmitting the popular tunes of the day in a distinctively tinny fashion. Looking back I can see that even then, at the tender age of five or so, I was developing personal tastes in music. That was a long time ago, but I clearly recall that the first … Continue reading →

Mini Bikes at Penneys

Mini bikes were all the rage in the sixties and early seventies, and like many kids back then I was desperate to own one. It’s funny to look back at these primitive vehicles, with their utilitarian side-valve engines, squared-off tires, and laughably poor brakes. (well, they’d be laughable if they weren’t so terrifying) But for many people they served as an introduction to two-wheeling, and are remembered fondly by those who once piloted the diminutive machines. Mini bikes of this sort were almost unbelievably crude, usually propelled by a pull-start Briggs & Stratton or Tecumseh engine that was not unlike the one on the family mower or edger. Braking was typically handled by nothing more than a metal plate pressed … Continue reading →

Matchbox Cars

I’m definitely a car guy, an affliction that manifested itself rather early. I subscribed to car magazines long before I was old enough to drive, and it should come as no surprise that I had a huge collection of Corgi, Matchbox, and Hot Wheels cars. Introduced in 1953 by Lesney Products, Matchbox cars were accurately rendered miniature diecast vehicles, first replicating only British makes but later branching out to include international vehicles. Lesney would periodically release catalogs of the current Matchbox lineup, free of charge and typically available wherever the cars were sold. Below is the complete 1969 Matchbox catalog, which includes a number of cars that I had. I also see some curiosities, vehicles like the #42 Studebaker Wagon … Continue reading →