Toys of Christmas Past
1960 Mr. Machine TV commercial
I got a Mr. Machine for Christmas 1960, the year we lived on Atkins Road in Port Huron, Michigan (the year before we moved to the Detroit area). I also got a sled that year. I still have the sled (no it is not named "Rosebud" for you Citizen Cane fans who may be wondering).
I wish I still had the Mr. Machine, but the manufacturers made the mistake of trying to make it a “hands on” educational toy that a boy could take apart and put back together—just like new. I did not take mine apart for a long, long time…and then I started feeling "educational" and…well you know the last line of “Humpty Dumpty”…it was kind of like that.
The first gift I remember getting was in 1959. I was almost four years old: Paul, Dave, and I each got a red Tonka fire truck. I still have that truck on a shelf in our downstairs TV room.
You still have a toy from nearly 50 years ago? You must have really taken good care of it.
Not really—though it is in very good shape. We played with it for years, and then it sat around in the basement toy box for a couple of decades surrounded by a tangle of toys held together by Slinkies and Kathy’s jump ropes and boxing glove laces and yo-yos.
That's what happens when four kids share one toy box. You reach in to pull out one toy and along come a dozen others. My writing here is sometimes like that. Especially these past several weeks as I've been mulling over the sixties…but it’s been fun sorting it out. Thanks for your patience.
It was only a few years ago that I brought that fire truck home from my mom's attic and put in on a shelf with some other “antique” toys—Ouch! That hurts… calling something I got brand new as a kid an antique. Let me change the subject by telling you about a gift I didn't get, one my Dad refused to give my brother Dave and me.
It was called a "Hump-A-Jump." I can't find a thing about it on the internet, so you’ll have to trust me. This thing existed some time in the late Sixties. They were advertising it on local TV in the Detroit area. It was basically one of those circus teeterboards—you know the kind that acrobats use to get each other higher and higher in the air.
The commercial showed kids catapulting each other like ten feet straight up right there in their own backyard. Dave and I had seen the TV spot for weeks, and finally it came on when Dad was home to see it.
“Hurry, Dad. See. There it is... that's the ‘Hump-A-Jump’ we’ve been telling you about.”
He watched for a while, because there was a side of Dad that loved us being athletic "risk takers," but there was another side of him that liked our daring stunts to be free—like climbing 50 feet up in a tree or diving off of fishing shanties into the raging St. Clair River. There were plenty of inexpensive ways for us to kill ourselves...
"Well, Dad. What do you think? Can we get one?" I begged.
"You gotta be kidding. You’d break your neck on that contraption. How do you stop once you get going? They don't show you that. Those kids are probably on crutches right now. I think they should call it a ‘Hunk-a-Junk.’” He couldn't help but laugh at his own joke.
"You'd break your neck" ranked right up there with "You'll shoot your eye out," but Dad did have a point. What were they thinking? I've said it here before... safety wasn't discovered until the Seventies. Years later my brother Dave pursued his secret circus desires by learning how to juggle and ride a unicycle. I have a feeling if my dad had gotten us our “Hump-A-Jump,” I wouldn't have lived to tell you about it—I weighed a lot less than Dave at the time.
Speaking of living to tell you about it. I hope to find some time this week (Christmas Break) to wrap up those missing epilogue posts from after 1964. I've got to get to the part where my little brother is born and we go back to Hudson's.
Until then...have a very merry Christmas!
Update: August 30, 2009. I had missed most of these comments since writing this back in 2006, but I found them today. Better yet, I found a Youtube clip by Steve Oatley demonstrating a Hump-a-Jump. I think they may be a bit over the recommended weight limit (I know I would be) but you get the idea. Enjoy!