Growing up in the fifties, as I did, was the coolest time of my life. In the fifties, a dollar was worth an actual dollar. So living on what you made was simple. Most people worked for about $1.00 to $1.25 per hour. Gas was 20 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread was 10 cents. Hamburger was about 25 cents a pound. But toys were expensive.
My sister got a bride doll in 1956 that cost $5.00. I got a gun and holster set from my birthday that cost $3.00. You say that is cheap, but not at the time. It cost my dad a half days wages to buy that doll and 3 hours of work to by my guns. Today that doll would cost about $65 and those plastic guns would be about $15.00. Now there was a set of toys that I always wanted but never got because they were too expensive. I never realized how expensive until I stopped to figure it out. The toys were a matching set of Tonka toys. They came in a big box and contained a bulldozer, dump truck, scoop crane, and a grader, plus some worker guys with signs. That toy set allowed you to make roads. Something that I loved to do. But I had to use pieces of 2x4's and paper boxes to make my road crew set. Was I sad and angry? No. I loved making my own toys from my imagination. I would take a 6" 2x4 and nail a paper box onto it and there was my dump truck. I would get a slat board (1x2) and nail a can onto it and it would be my scoop crane. I would get a 2x4 and nail a slat onto the front and make a bulldozer. I loved these toys and had hours of fun with them. I always thought they were so cool because I made them to fit my play style. My brother would help me play with them sometimes. Even though he was much older, he played with me all the time, because we hadn't any neighbors around us. It was just him and me until I was 13.
He graduated high school and moved away and I was pretty much on my own. I got my first bike then. I rode it all day, every day, by myself. I played like I was a race car driver and even made a circle track up behind our house. Once in a while, Vincent would come over and we would race. Then I tied some slats to the front of the bike and made out that I was a fork lift. I loved fork lifts. I have a collection of toy fork lifts today, along with a big electric one that really works like the real thing.
When I wasn't playing with my toys, I was designing and building new ones. I remember one year, when dad came home from work. (He was a planerman for the lumber mills) He had a big box of different sizes of wood pieces, and he gave them to me. He then gave me a scroll saw. With that hand saw I made everything I needed to play with. I made guns and trucks and even made a set of bowling pins which I used a softball as the ball.
Now kids today wouldn't know how to use a box of wood to make toys. They don't think like that. Everything is electronic and some kind of game for their ipad. Gone are their imaginations, and that is a serious setback to their future. Our childlike imagination is what develops a child's ability to think and solve problems. All the times I made and used my toy creations was actually developing and building my future as a designer and builder of all kinds of things.
One Christmas when I was in the 2nd grade, dad came home with a big box. He and mom hid it in their bedroom. Mom put funny paper wrapping on it with a handmade bow. It was labeled, Merry Christmas Kids. On Christmas morning we opened it and poured out all these wooden boards, that were cut into all kinds of shapes. There were three pistols, 2 rifles, trucks and all kinds of blocks. The cardboard box had windows drawn on it, and an opening door. There were wooden people and furniture items. These were for my sister to play with. My brother and I took our guns and started playing cowboys and Indians. We played for weeks with those guns, clear thru summer. My sister set up the box as a doll house and played with that for a long time, until the box fell apart. Even today, my brother and sister and I talk about that box of toys. It was the best Christmas present we ever had from our parents. Yeah, it wasn't store bought and fancy, but it was the BEST !
Many years ago when my grandkids were still little guys, I did the same thing for Christmas. I got a big box and put windows and a door on it. I cut out and sanded blocks of wood, pieces of wood in all shapes and sizes and I put them into that box and wrapped it up. That Christmas morning after they had opened all their other gifts, I went into the garage and brought in the big box. I sat it down, and everyone asked who the present was for? I said, "My grandkids". The replied, "It's for us?" "It's for you", I said. They opened it up and Hayden spilled the contents out onto the floor. Mom and dad immediately started get onto him about making a mess. I told them to stop. I said, "today is their day and they can play all day long". So I cleared us all out of the family room and shut the doors. They played in there all day, with each other. Only taking bathroom breaks and food breaks. About 9:00 pm we had to get them to bed. But the next morning they started in again. My son told me later that they played with that stuff after they got home, for about a week or more. Even today, I ask them about the big box at Christmas and they still go into all the details about how they played with it all, and what they made. They figured out how to cut two doors into the sides of the box and make it into a car. I can ask each one what they got for Christmas the following years, and they have to think about it, but the big box of wood is still their biggest Christmas memory.
If you have kids about 5 years old or so, make them a big box, fill it with all kinds of imaginative things and watch them play. You are making more than memories with them.
** I forgot to tell you that the Tonka road set is still available today. It is almost $300. In my day it was over $30.
Edited by Ol' Smoke, 10 May 2014 - 08:58 AM.