Time Warp Toy Box ’09 – Part 2
As was expertly portrayed in Bob Clark’s modern Christmas classic, A Christmas Story, boys have always had an obsession with firearms. Unlike Ralphie, we may not have all considered a BB gun to be the holy grail of Christmas presents, but it’s a safe bet that almost all young boys at one time or another asked Santa for a toy gun. These weapons didn’t even have to be of the projectile popping variety to be fun, although I always liked those the best. They came in all shapes and sizes, from the realistic that could be used to hold up the neighborhood liquor store to the comical that still made for fun fantasy play. There was a never ending supply of cool to stuff to add to our Christmas lists for the jolly fat man but toy guns were always somewhere near the top for most of the kids I grew up with.
Perhaps John Belushi summed it up best in a heart warming story he once told as part of a Yule Tide guest spot on the Weekend Update news segment of Saturday Night Live. As a young boy, he begged Santa every year to bring him a pony for Christmas. Finally, after years of disappointment and failure, his mother sat him down and explained to him that they lived in an apartment in the city and there was no way Saint Nick could fit something the size of a pony down their chimney. She was sure, however, that if young John asked Santa for a smaller present, he would almost assuredly get what he wanted this year. The young boy looked at his mother and, without missing a beat, said “fine, if I can’t have a pony then I want a shotgun!”
First up in our salute is what I considered to be the last word in juvenile firepower, the Johnny Seven O.M.A. (One Man Army!). This was seven different weapons all rolled into one big rifle. In addition to the anticipated automatic rifle and hand gun, this plastic arsenal also boasted a grenade launcher, anti-tank rocket, and armor piercing missile! Topper Toys was certainly tops in the toy gun department and produced several variations on this theme including the Crimebuster rifle and Multi-Pistol 09. I remember drooling over ads for this gun as a child but I sadly never got one. In retrospect, it is probably for the best that I didn’t. I am sure I would have been severely disappointed when it failed to blow up the next door neighbor’s tree house.
Another company that specialized in wee weaponry was Hubley. They started out in the fifties and concentrated on realistic looking toy guns that fired the old standby, caps. While the “bang” may not have been the most impressive sound in the world, the rapid fire action and smell of actual gunpowder couldn’t be beat. Hubley produced well made metal six shooters and automatics for years, many of which were handed down from brother to brother. Because of the sturdy construction, you see more of these pistols today on the collector’s market than the more fragile plastic versions but in hindsight, the Hubley Dick may not have been the best name for a toy gun.
The Louis-Marx Company is best remembered for their playsets (like Fort Apache and Navarrone) but they also made some pretty cool toy guns. While I don’t recall the US military ever being issued German Lugers as side arms, as they are pictured using on the card graphics here, this pistol is a perfect example of one of the “bullet firing” toys we loved as kids. In addition to using traditional caps (so much for that silencer guys), guns like these fired hollow plastic projectiles. These play bullets were supposedly soft and safe but with a little minor tinkering, the spring mechanisms could be cut down to increase velocity and let that annoying neighbor kid know who he was dealing with!
In the days before we could call Ghostbusters, kids had to rely on their own nerves of steel and eagle eyes to get ride of pesky poltergeists! Fortunately, we had Ideal’s Ghost Gun to assist us in the task. Looking something like a modified German machine gun, the Ghost Gun would project a picture of a ghost on the wall when a small film strip was inserted from the side. Once the image was up, kids could align the cross hair sights and squeeze the trigger. This caused a small pin to poke a hole through the film and allow light to come through. All this worked together with a clicking noise to create a pretty entertaining illusion of blasting a hole right through the floating phantom. Needless to say, the film strips were not reusable and kids like me burned through them very quickly. Then you were left with a giant flashlight rifle to use in outside play, which wasn’t a bad alternative. These guns must not have been around for very long because they are difficult to come by today. There was a variant from a few years later that had the gun molded in green and came with strips of colorful vintage airplanes to shoot at.
My good friend Donovan wrote in with this request for 2009:
I had a Star Trek Fazer in the late 70’s that fired a little disc with two slots and a hole in the middle. I loved that gun, it would hold about 15 discs if I remember right. Anyway it was enough to send the dog running for cover. It was cheap and it lasted quite a while, I went on a few of trips to K-mart to buy extra disc. I remember Shatner’s mug on the cardboard backing it was sold on.
Well Donovan, your wish is my command here at Time Warp Toy Box and it just so happens I was already one step ahead of you with this week’s edition. The toy you described was called a tracer gun and it was manufactured in the US by Ray Plastic, Inc. As you recall, these little babies launched a small plastic Frisbee about the size of a nickel which was called a Jet Disc. The Star Trek variation was the exact same as the original gun except for the packaging and came in either metallic blue or gold colored plastic. There was also a rifle variation that was essentially a modified version of the pistol with an extended barrel and a skeleton stock.
After the kid across the street from me shot his younger sister in the eye with one of these guns, leaving her with a nasty mark but thankfully no vision impairment, this became the weapon of choice in our neighborhood wars. As Donovan pointed out, they were cheap and held a lot of ammo. We would make bracelets out of the extra discs and a wire bag tie so that we always had plenty of spare ammunition close at hand.
That’s it for our salute to stuff that shoots but tune in next week for another rummage through the retro receptacle known as the Time Warp Toy Box!