Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 9, 2014

Favorite toys from childhood spur special memories for grownups

— — I wonder if my Lost in Space robot is still around somewhere. I’m sure I put my name on it.

We have a budget meeting every day at the Daily Telegraph when we decide which stories are going on the next front page. Sometimes they’re short and sometimes they’re long, and you never know what’s going to happen or what sort of topic is going to come up. For instance, one day I never envisioned us having puppies in Editor Samantha Perry’s office while we were having a budget meeting, but it happened when Samantha and reporter Ann Elgin rescued two pups.

When Tuesday’s budget meeting was convened, the topic of childhood toys got started somehow. Somebody mentioned replica vintage toys on display at a Bluefield, Va. store. One of them was a tricycle Samantha recalled from her childhood. I immediately thought of my old Lost in Space robot and Assistant Managing Editor Charles Owens remembered his old G.I. Joe action figures with “kung fu grip.”

I had some of those G.I. Joes. Intact examples would be worth some money today because so many kids like me did things like improvised zip lines that amputated their soft rubber fingers.

I can remember when the first G.I. Joes went on sale. Every boy had to have one, so I soon had a G.I. Joe complete with footlocker and assorted miniature military gear. It was also the first toy dubbed an “action figure.” The toy’s creators absolutely forbid anybody from calling G.I. Joe a “doll.” No American boy was going to play with a doll.

Naturally, none of my G.I. Joe collection remains. It was all lost, broken or sold at garage sales. If I had kept those toys in good shape, they would be worth some money today.

I also had some James Bond toys. My collection’s prize was a plastic James Bond briefcase with collapsible weapons and a special button that fired a plastic bullet. Rough use destroyed it, too. I imagine an intact James Bond briefcase would fetch a good price today.

Another fond childhood memory revolves around my Lost in Space robot. The robot was a character in the 1960s show “Lost in Space.” Simply called Robot, he grew from an almost mindless threat obeying the sinister stowaway Dr. Smith to a complex personality beloved by the space family Robinson. They even threw him a birthday party once.

My robot was about a foot and a half high. When you turned it on, it lit up, and moved in a straight line or a circle depending on how you set its wheels. There were even handles in the back to open and close its arms. It wasn’t very sophisticated by today’s standards, but I loved it.

Eventually, I outgrew the toy robot and sold it at a yard sale for a few dollars. Today, I wish I still had it and the childhood memories it carried. I’m sure I used a marker to write my name on it.

The guys in the History Channel show “American Pickers” frequently buy old toys that sell quickly because there are plenty of folks who want to recover a piece of their childhood. I’ve browsed the Internet more than once to see if a Lost in Space robot is available. A good example can sell for up to $100 now; I don’t want to relive my childhood quite that much. A robot in its original box sells for even more. Boxes are often discarded, so they can be even rarer than the toys. I think I used my robot’s box for a storage container.

Fortunately, my parents kept me from selling all my toys. I still have a metal Tonka dump truck and a steam shovel from the 1960s, and both are still in good shape. One really rare toy we have is a cast iron bucket shovel my Dad and his brothers played with. It has multiple buckets on a conveyor belt system you operate by turning a crank. The chain driving it is a bicycle chain. It’s heavy, and I think most of today’s federal regulators would be horrified to think it was once sold to little kids.

Metal toys were sold well into the 1960s. My sister, Karen, cracked me on the head with a metal hoe once. She still says it was an accident. In those days, kids were real kids who injured each other with the toys Mom and Dad gave them for Christmas. We didn’t needed expensive skateboards to send ourselves to the emergency room.

If I had a time machine and I could make only one trip for myself, I would pick a day in the mid 1960s, buy all the toys I could find, and store them in a salt mine or some other place that would keep them in good condition. Then I could sell them in the 21st century for a whopping profit.

Of course, I might keep a Lost in Space Robot for myself.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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