Archive Post – Very, Very Bad Toys

Ran across this little account of the Very Worst Toys Ever, and began to chortle. (It’s an oft-repeated article, apparently – this version is from earlier this year.) Not so much at the toys themselves, although my brother JP, sister Pippy and I were actually given at least one of the deadly worst and a couple of the others mentioned in subsequent comments.

We, of course, emerged un-maimed, although Dad probably regretted to the end of his days that he didn’t give either one of us the atomic energy lab. Probably couldn’t afford it, as he was only a poor graduate student on the GI bill, round and about the time it was on the market. We did have loving and generous grandparents, though; how we didn’t ever get BB rifles like all the other neighborhood kids is a mystery. Mom probably put her foot down about that, believing that yes, you could put out an eye with them. Well, so could you with a ‘wrist rocket’. We had a pair of them, a sort of bent-metal sling-shot with a bottom end that braced against your wrist so that you could sling a bit of gravel at practically ballistic speeds. But they weren’t toys- we had them to chase the blue jays away from the house where they tormented the cats and dogs unmercifully. As far as I know, Dad was the only one of us who ever actually hit a blue-jay with a wrist-rocket impelled missile. Square in the butt, actually. It let out an enormous squawk and vacated the premises henceforth and forthwith and at a good speed.

We did have a variant of the creepy-crawler toy, with the heater that heated up a pair of metal molds that (IIRC) made little GI Joe figures and their various little accoutrements. Just open the little bottles of black and brown and OD green rubber compound goop, pour into the molds, and bake until done. It did heat up quite hot, and the baking rubber smelt pretty vile. Still, no dangerous adventures to report, no animals ever ingested the little marble-super-balls – but the ‘clackers’ rather lost their charm after some painful bruises. Picture a pair of billiard-sized balls, on either end of a length of cord, with a finger-hold in the middle. The object was to get them going, ‘clacking’ them against each other while hanging from your hand, and then get them going so fast that they would rebound and ‘clack’ against each other above your hand. Eh – it was the novelty toy in about 1966 … for as long as it took for kids to figure out that the damned things hurt.

Other bad, bad toys? Definitely the water-rocket. I clearly remember watching Dad and JP launch them from the back yard of the White Cottage, which would put it squarely in the early 60ies, the Golden Age of Really, Really Dangerous Toys. It was bulbous blue plastic rocket; there may have been a pair of them. They flew on an interesting combination of (I think!) baking soda, vinegar, water from a garden hose screwed into the launcher mechanism, and some kind of pressure pump-thingus. It was a wet and messy business, preparing for flight, but they zoomed up to a thrilling height from the ground when released from the launcher with considerable force.

Who needed lawn darts to maim each other with, when you had rocket power? Although to be fair, I don’t think we had nearly as much thrilling fun with them, as we did when Dad was overseeing the launching. And Dad brought us enough in the way of dangerous toys; it was his notion to snake-proof us at an early age, by having us handle the not-so-dangerous sorts. And Dad was the one who gave us an enormous magnifying glass and showed us how to focus the suns’ rays with it, so that we could set stuff on fire. And he brought home dry ice from the lab; heaps of fun, throwing a great lump of it into the baby’s wading pool, and enjoying the bubbling, and the billows of white vapor. That was nearly as much good clean fun as the insulated flask of (IIRC) liquid hydrogen, dipping leaves and rose petals into it for a moment- and then dropping them on the tile kitchen counter where they would shatter like glass.

Grannie Jessie was notoriously blase about toy hazards, but even Grannie Dodie, who wasn’t, still let us play with Dad’s classic old Erector set, which included enough small nuts and screws to provide a choking hazard to an entire elementary school – and the crown jewel, a small electric motor. Said motor was a good three or four decades old when we played with it, and even to my eyes looked a little – I don’t know – frayed? Insulation cracked – connections not quite up to par? We never managed to spindle, shock, or mutilate with it, so perhaps it wasn’t quite so child-unsafe as I remember it. Oh, yeah dangerous toys; bicycles without helmets, large horses, and go-carts on steep hillside trails, rope swings in tall trees.

Oddly enough, we survived. Even without the toy nuclear lab. Add your own accounts of Bad, Bad Toys. Especially if they were received as Christmas presents.

(Don’t drool, people – Dad’s old Erector set survived our childhood, still in the original case, but it was in their garage when the house burned to the ground in 2003. For another take on things we did growing up that are practically unthinkable now Link through Instapundit.)

30 thoughts on “Archive Post – Very, Very Bad Toys”

  1. Good times.

    If you look at the Wrist Rocket page on Amazon you’ll notice they’ve photoshopped safety goggles onto the face of the juvenile delinquent in the demo picture.

  2. If you try to take all dangerous toys away, boys will fight with rocks and sticks. Boys that had no interest at all in weapons and fighting, and ganging up and brawling, were eaten by predators countless millennia ago.

  3. The latest dangerous toy is the “Super Stomp Rocket” capable (says the box) of 800 feet. It uses air pressure – you stomp on an air pump plastic thingy to blast the rocket of the pad.

    I bought two – one for Toys for Tots and the other for my grandson – for use under my supervision, of course.

  4. My recreation was unloading my father’s shotgun shells in the basement to use the gun powder for model rockets. Then, there was my chemistry set. Then I got a set of metal molds for toy soldiers but they were supposed to be lead. Someone gave me a supply of aluminum pellets, which I found I could melt down over a charcoal fire (Melting point 1221 degrees) and I made aluminum toy soldiers.

  5. IIRC, the last time I was in one of these discussions about dangerous toys and dangerous amusements among the pre-teen and teen set – many of us in it came to the conclusion that this was a necessary and inescapable part of human development. Better to try all kinds of reckless games with bicycles, tall trees, and BB guns as kids or teenagers under lax supervision – than do it as young adults, once out from under the supervision of helicopter parents – with automobiles, tall cliffs and serious weapons.
    YMMV, of course – but it seemed to me that it was a lot more manageable, risking a concussion from riding a bicycle recklessly and learning that there were limits – than waiting to learn them at the wheel of a high-powered automobile.

  6. I just ordered my grandson another Christmas present. It is a bazooka that shoots marshmallows. He loves military stuff. I don’t know how his mother will like it.It shoots them 50 feet.

  7. Other bad, bad toys? Definitely the water-rocket.

    One of THE BEST toys ever! Right up there with homemade-gunpowder fireworks and pop guns that shot dirt clods. We had loads of fun with those.

    Really, actually dangerous things we did (other than make our own gunpowder):

    1.Melt lead and mold soldiers or anything else we could pour molten metal into. Can anyone imagine eight year olds being allowed to play with molten metal, unsupervised, these days? The parents would be imprisoned. We had a lot of fun with that, despite me burning the living hell out of my wrist once. I still have the scar.

    2. Build bike ramps out of scrap lumber and cinder blocks and ride our bikes over and off them in our concrete alley.

    3. Carry our bikes over the Patapsco River by way of a rotten civil war era railroad trestle. Every plank had to be tested. We were about 40 feet over the river.

    4. BB gun wars!

    5. Hockey in the basement. No gear.

    Childhood had its benefits.

  8. Marshmallow bazooka? Awesome gift. I need one.

    I bought two of those for my sons kids last year for Christmas. You can get them through Amazon. What can’t you get through Amazon?

  9. Yep.

    1. BB Gun wars. Me & 2 cousins, 1 cousin and I had these great Daisy BB guns (replica of a 30-30), the other cousin had a multiple pump lever action BB gun (like 10 pumps to shoot it and it really hurt if it hit you). So it was always 2 against 1, we figured it was fair 2 low powered guns against 1 high powered one. You can do the math, you get about 20 shots from us versus one from him, plus we could out flank him. He ended up with lots of little bruises.

    2. Knee football. Played indoors on carpet, no equipment except the football (usually a Nerf). Tackle, full contact variety. Horrendous rug burns, countless bruises and scraps. Remarkable for no broken bones or concussions. It really hurts to get tackled into a wooden bookshelf. Not sure why my Mom let this go on.

    3. Homemade wooden bike ramps. We always built on a steep hillside, you know to get more speed. Countless times the ramp would collapse when you hit it, but again no major injuries.

    Must have had a team of guardian angels assigned to us.

  10. “Homemade wooden bike ramps”

    The big thing for awhile when we were kids was to simulate Fonzie’s jump over the garbage cans.

    Then the BMX craze hit and there were contests to bunny hop over kids laying side by side. Six I recall was the neighborhood record.
    It was always a mad scramble to get in position and not be the last in the row (and likely to cushion the landing if the rider jumped short).

    That contest was short lived because the talent pool got diluted as it gained popularity, and the kids at the end got tired of getting stomped on. The best riders then had height competitions, jumping over stacks of various odds and ends, but since it lacked the dare devil factor it didn’t really take off, so to speak.

  11. BB gun wars – Take the core out of an old Daisy and it shoots marbles/rocks ball bearings really well…….

    Model rockets – I got into them in 1968 parents had absolutely no interest, but let me order them from Estes and Centuri. I got well known as the rocket kid in rural Glasscock County….

    Explosives – Encyclopedia Americana had all the details on how to make black powder and nitroglycerine. Did both, it’s a wonder I still have both hands and all 10 fingers……

    Drainage ditch skiing – when they filled up after a rain, tie a 1X4 to your feet, a 30 ft rope to a pickup bumbet and hold onto the other end whil the other guys gunned the truck down the road. Ate a LOT of mud….Got a few road rashes…..

    Fireworks – what M-80’s can do to a red ant mound is horrific…..

    Yeah, it’s a wonder any of use survived…(rolleyes)

  12. It’s not just a matter of not being allowed to have “bad” toys and do crazy things with them. It’s also a matter of kids not being allowed to emulate responsible adults even when they want to. The only way a teenager can get himself treated as an adult or near-adult is if he commits a serious crime. If he behaves himself, he gets treated like a 9 year old. Given this, the wonder isn’t that there are so many teenage criminals, but so few.

    Or to put it another way: “There are two fundamental views of children: That they are pets who can talk, or that they are small people who do not yet know very much. The wrong one is winning.”

  13. What were Mom and Pop thinking? I don’t know but I can very clearly remember what I was thinking.

    A birthday present was given to me (11 years old. It was a bow and some target arrows. The bow was about as tall as I was. My younger brother and I were in our large yard. My 11-year-old thought/rationale was “he’s way across the yard (probably some 150-200 feet), there is absolutely no chance that I can hit him…. so I’ll give it a try”.

    Thus,being calm and relaxed I took aim and put the target arrow in his head, exactly between the eyes.

    The blood did flow, a trip to the emergency room followed, but no permanent damage was suffered.

  14. “Drainage ditch skiing – when they filled up after a rain, tie a 1X4 to your feet, a 30 ft rope to a pickup bumbet and hold onto the other end whil the other guys gunned the truck down the road. Ate a LOT of mud….Got a few road rashes…..”

    My father had an old truck that we used to borrow from the garage when I was teenager. When it snowed, we would pull one guy along on a long rope. I can remember crossing a street and the guy on the rope sliding along well behind us. The crossing cars almost went off the road when they saw this kid sliding along at the end of an invisible rope. We got busted one time when it snowed while we we out leaving tell tale tracks at the garage door.

  15. Slingshots:

    I was able to find my old slingshot. Turns out my memory was wrong: it’s a Pocket Rocket, not a Wrist Rocket brand.

    Turns out it’s something of a classic:

    Except for the elastic tubing, it’s still in great shape. I plan to put a new band on and teach my kids to shoot it.

    Joe Wooten:

    Nitroglycerine? I’m equal parts impressed and horrified.

  16. I had a vinegar and baking soda rocket — it was great. Water rockets are a different thing, but also cool. Both types are actually pretty harmless in and of themselves, but they’re a sort of gateway drug that can lead to making your own gunpowder rockets.

    The cryogenic liquid your dad brought home was probably liquid nitrogen. It’s a fairly common item. Liquid hydrogen is rarer and needs far more specialized handling.

  17. Another fun thing is to use paper towel or wrapping paper tube as a launching tube for bottle rockets. Simply brace the bottom of the tube against a piece of wood, brick or some other hard surface and aim the tube where you want the bottle rocket to go.

    Our favorite targets were cars and trucks on the highway. Hit a school bus one time. We were very stupid.

  18. Setbit, I went to a small rural school. When I took Chemistry the teacher had a heart attack about 8 weeks before the end of the school year and the 6 of us in the class (all boys) were left alone in the chem lad with an unlocked store room and NO supervision. That’s where we made the nitro.

    Stupid, but isn’t that the very definition of a teen age boy? I’d never try that stunt now, but safety concerns were never a consideration when I was 16.

    There’s a reason insurance rates are higher for young men…….

    Jeff, we did not use the holders, just held onto the sticks and let go as they lit. In our small town, we’d get on each corner of the crossroads at night and cut loose at cars coming through town.

  19. I’ll add another thing to this list – tennis ball/potato cannons using lighter fluid/gasoline/acetylene as a propellant. Usually made frm tennis ball cans, food cans or any old 3″ piece of steel pipe laying around.

  20. My wife and I raised 4 sons and I confided to her when they were little that I’d consider myself a successful father if they did only half the stupid crazy stunts I pulled from age 14-21.

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