by Douglas R. Kelly
Who doesn’t like winning prizes? Real prizes, that is, the good stuff … a jumbo stuffed animal at the carnival, or a cool treasure you pull out of a box of Sugar Krinkles. The gent wearing the beany cap in the red convertible is one of just a few toys that survived my making it to adulthood. My family often rented a summer house on Long Beach Island on the Jersey shore, and my brother and I invariably wound up spending what little cash we’d scraped up for the trip at Shermat’s Arcade, playing skeeball and pinball. After I’d enjoyed a good run of luck at skeeball one afternoon, I traded in the tickets I’d won for this guy just because his face cracked me up. Still does, actually.
The plastic car is powered by an electric motor that takes a “C” battery, which drives one of the rear wheels. The idea is that the white disc at the front allows the car to run along any obstacles it encounters, but that never actually worked. I didn’t care as the car ran just fine in a straight line, and I love how the driver has that 1960s beatnik vibe going. Reminds me a little of Maynard G. Krebs, sans goatee, of course. The toy measures six inches in length and was made in Hong Kong by an outfit called Multiple Products.
Maynard was joined in the prize section of my collection several years ago by a five-inch-long plastic racecar that I came across on eBay. What got my attention was the method of propulsion: you insert the metal wire into the back of the car, which compresses a spring. You then hook the wire onto the back bumper; when you squeeze the wire, it releases the spring, and the Ketchup & Mustard Indycar Special shoots across the linoleum at a high rate of speed. Or at least, it did when Eisenhower and Kennedy were presidents. When examples of this toy surface today, they often are suffering from warping of the plastic, which tends to curtail the vehicle’s maximum velocity.
This toy was made by New York-based Elmar Products. Mine came with the original box it was shipped in, from Kellogg’s in Toronto to a lucky recipient in Mariapolis, Manitoba. I’ve also seen it blue with red wheels and yellow with red wheels. The box and the wire make for a pretty cool display with the car, but truth be told, it can’t hold a candle to what I stumbled onto at a toy show late last year.
This one jumped out at me from a dealer’s table because one, it’s a boat and I grew up messing around on boats, and two, the box has the Kellogg’s logo on it – I’m a pushover for breakfast cereal toys. The plastic boat is a little less than four inches in length, and for such a small model, it’s a very accurate replica of an early 1960s Chris Craft runabout, right down to the dorsal fin on the engine cover and a finely rendered Chris Craft logo running down the center of the deck in front of the windscreen. The steering wheel and driver figure are a little over-scale for the model, but the guy is waving at us cheerily as he motors past, so why quibble over such trifles?
The Chris Craft has an even stranger power source than the Elmar racecar. It came with a plastic tube that I first thought was a tube of glue or some kind of oil. Turns out it’s “nuclear propellant.” Blank stare on my face as I read the words on the tube at the dealer’s booth: “For propelling your Chris Craft speed boat. Squeeze a small ribbon of propellant onto the narrow ledge which spans the two jets at the stern. Place some on the jets too.” And then … the boat goes on its way, powered by … nuclear propellant. I’m not an engineer, but I’ve built and operated many R/C boats and other models, and this is a new one for me. The dealer who had the boat was as much in the dark as I was. A great little toy boat that’s an excellent model of a 1960s Chris Craft and my own tube of nuclear propellant? I couldn’t hand over the $30 asking price fast enough.
The Kellogg’s box it all came in shows the legendary Battle Creek, Michigan as the return address. I recall thinking about Battle Creek at the breakfast table as a kid and wondering how come all the good stuff was there instead of where we lived?