Toys in the Old Days Weren’t Fancy, But They Were Still Fun

By Joe Darby

As Christmas approaches, thoughts of many folks are turning to toys — we need to buy some as gifts for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and any other special youngsters in our lives.

But sometimes our thoughts become focused on toys of the past, ones we enjoyed for ourselves, a few years back or many years ago, depending on how many times our planet has circled the sun since we were born.

I played with and enjoyed many toys that are now considered classics, and some of the original ones from the 1940s or ’50s would fetch a pretty penny today. They weren’t electronic, there were no flashing lights or popping or buzzing noises coming from them. The only one that moved by itself was my electric train. The old toys were simple but they could keep a child busy and fascinated for hours at a time.

Perhaps the most simple was my sets (and I did have more than one) of Lincoln Logs. Surely you remember them, or at least have seen some. They were made up of actual little wooden logs that came in varying lengths, with interlocking pieces near the end so that you could build a log cabin of any different numbers of designs.

The kits also had little green planks to use as roofing materials and little pre-shaped chimneys to add that final realistic touch to your new cabin. Once you completed the little house you could either play with it or take it apart and start on another design.

Also available for the kid who liked to build things was the Erector Set. These were made up of little metal girders looking like real construction beams and the larger sets even had gears, pulleys and other devices to make your project more realistic. For example, you could build a tow truck, with the lift crane on the back.

Erector Sets were a little more challenging than Lincoln Logs and required a little more patience. You couldn’t just slap them together. You had to use little nuts and bolts to fasten one beam to another. Sometimes I think I even had to ask Mama to help me with some small skyscraper or bridge.

And speaking of my dear mother, she went above and beyond to set up a super neat electric train outfit for me. I had been looking through the very tempting and colorful Lionel Train catalogs for a couple of years when finally, when I was in the third grade, I found one under the Christmas tree. I had an oval track, with switches, one locomotive plus passenger and freight cars. I would park one of the two car sets on the siding while the engine pulled the other one, puffing “real smoke” as it chugged down the track.

I also had a few accessories, such as a working crossbar, a lit station platform and others. I also had the milk car, with the little man popping in and out of it carrying milk cans. He frequently got caught in the door of the car and dropped his can, but I liked him anyway. What Mama did to make it so special was to take a plywood board, maybe six by eight or so, paint it, put down artificial grass for the lawns and grits for the unpaved roads. With some little houses I already had, I had my own little village and train system. I spent many hours playing with it. My friends like to come over and occasionally I would let them control everything with the transformer.

Another special toy I waited a couple of years for was a little vehicle that you could pedal around. I really wanted a pedal car, one resembling a full sized auto. For some reason Mama and Daddy got me a pedal tractor, a little red job that looked very much like the real thing. I’ll never forget how I first saw it. I was sick in bed and here comes Daddy, riding the tractor and pedaling it into my bedroom, with a grin on his face and his long legs going up and down and splayed out like those of a grasshopper. That is a memory I will keep to my dying day.

So, I had no video games, no electronic games at all with display screens, no sophisticated flying toys or anything like that. I did have lots of board games, ranging from one based on an auto assembly line to one in which pirate ships sailed the world. And I loved them all. I wish I had some of those toys today. I can easily picture myself sitting at the dining room table building a log cabin.