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Poor Kids Toybox

By: vkimo
Growing up money was pretty tight. Like any other kid, I had a ton of toys but most of them were hand me downs from my older siblings. So while you might be delighting in some Dick Tracy action figure mayhem, I'd be having bouts with my one armed Clawful. When I did get new toys, they weren't exactly the stuff of nostalgia, as I'll now explain.

I was at the local Dollar store the other day picking up some frozen mac n' cheese, shampoo and depression when I decided to check out the toy section. It was fascinating because the toys haven't changed that much at all since the days of yours truly throwing a tantrum for generic GI Joes more than 20 years ago!

I remember as a kid, my brother and I would love perusing all this crap. You had everything a Toys R Us had but offered in a for 1/8th the price and made of 1/16th the plastic. You had generic GI Joes, novelty prank devices, cheapo dart guns...and all priced so your folks couldn't say no!

(A) Here we have the generic wrestling figures. I had about a dozen or so of these guys. They offered ZERO articulation and were highly expendable. Toss them into the stream, let your dog chew on them, light them on fire with just didn't matter. They were also great for when my cousins came over and I could offer them these and keep my prize figurines away.

(B) Ah, the Saturday night special. These were great fun. Usually they were made out of metal so they had some heft to them. I usually used all the caps within the first 5 minutes and almost killed my entire family when I popped it off in the car and jolted my dad. Sadly this toy is largely shunned upon in today's times.

(C) Echo mics! These little guys could turn up your obnoxious power in a jiffy. They broke pretty easily and I just spent most of the time mindlessly humming into mine or swinging them from the small cord to use as a weapon against my little brother. Whenever he cried (Very often) I'd grab the mic and put it to his mouth, it was funny and even got my mom to smile.

(D) Ugh, cheap diecast cars. The 1/64th scale cars downright sucked. Hotwheels were only a dollar but I guess my parents rationale was "Oh, he loses those cars after an hour, now he'll have a dozen for 3 dollars!" You'd get these mega packs and it all seemed good till you opened it. Turns out of the 12 cars, it's just 3 different designs in different colors. When pushed they would roll about as well as a brick. I'd mostly stomp on them or race them top speed under the fridge.

One of my absolute favorites as a kid (And maybe even now) were the Police sets. These were massive packages that had all sorts of nefarious goodies; I'm talking guns, knifes, rifle, bow, etc, etc. My mom was particularly opposed to the handcuffs. Looking back I can't blame her. Even though they had a quick release button they were still dangerous. A lot of them back then were metal too! The bow and arrows were a joke and often broke after a hard pull. I also really enjoyed the ninja themed sets. A pack like the one shown above would be something like 4 dollars! They say it's Nerf or Nuthin' but I beg to differ.

Aside from birthdays or Christmas, I really never got any name brand, or even kid recognizable toys. However, we used to go to thrift stores a lot. I'd scour the grab bags, which were just a bunch of toys crammed into plastic bags. It was pretty exciting sifting through the bags as a kid. I got pretty good at telling if a bag was a bust or not. Nothing was worse than getting one filled with Happy Meal toys or even a random spatula.

Ross was a large staple of my childhood. Where else can you get designer clothes for half the price? The fact that the Nike swoosh was upside down or one sleeve was longer than the other was besides the point. They also had a bangin' toy section. One of the toys I got was those old New Bright RC trucks. I use the term remote control loosely as these had a 4 foot wire running from the controller to the truck. I felt more like I was walking a small dog than playing with an RC toy. But at the time a Tyco Rebound was like 80 dollars and you still needed to get the batteries! This baby was $8.99 and took 4 AAs.

Of all the bargain toys, the baseball cards were probably the worst. You got like 8 paper thin cards and most of the players were Triple A players. I mostly used them to hone my Gambit card throwing skills. The packs were dirt cheap and I usually would ask for one just because.

Well I hoped you enjoyed this little facet of my childhood. Being broke forced me to use my imagination more than anything. Even though most of those toys were pretty bad, back when I was a boy it didn't matter. The world was big and terrifying but I was going to take it on with my Police Commando Riot set!

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Mar 21, 2015 at 03:32 AM

Brought back some memories here. One town over from where I grew up was the first time I experienced the joys of the $1.99 Store (yep, they used to get an extra dollar out of us and call it a deal). My favorite items were these orange guns that you could actually cock and shoot foam yellow bullets out of. I convinced all my buddies to get their parents to take them there and gear up so we could have shoot outs in my friend's living room. They were the best toy guns I ever owned.

Ruespieler Posted on Mar 19, 2015 at 07:12 PM

It's funny that you wrote this. A few months ago I was looking at the "cheap" toy aisle at a local department store, and was shocked by how little had changed.

It really did bring me back, 90% of the toys there would have been right at home in my toy box, more than 30 years ago. Everything else in toys is different, but not that aisle.

An you're right, the dollars earned on those same molds must be in the hundreds of millions of dollars by now. Has to be some kind of record.

SegaFanatic Posted on Mar 19, 2015 at 07:02 PM

This was me as a kid! I ALWAYS wanted to shop at these places; cap guns and Power Rangers ruled the aisles! Great article, vkimo!

Vaporman87 Posted on Mar 19, 2015 at 04:07 PM

I think, even with these "dollar store" toys, you still get what you pay for. Even if it's a dollar more than the other package, the more expensive item is likely made a little bit better.

My typical cheap toy choices were things like plastic insects, silly putty, or army men.

pikachulover Posted on Mar 19, 2015 at 01:23 AM

After a while I got better at finding the better quality toys. Sometimes they would have name brand toys. My mom would buy me male dollar store fashion dolls. They would have outfits that were made out of more expensive fashion doll left overs. I had a few that wore some Micheal Jackson doll clothes. One had a "Thriller" jacket. They were cheap and the heads would fall off.

vkimo Posted on Mar 18, 2015 at 08:00 PM

That's the thing! The stuff hasn't changed at all! They're milking those plastic forms for all their worth haha

Vaporman87 Posted on Mar 18, 2015 at 07:46 PM

I love, love, LOVE that those wrestling figures are the same sculpts used for the "Dutch" and "Hamato" ninja style figures! LOL

I too enjoyed picking out the occasional cheap plastic plaything. Usually it was the result of my mom having to take us to the grocery store and to appease our cries of boredom, she would allow us to choose something from the small, limited toy aisle that was present there.

We would also pick up special junk like this at the Fair as well. Whether by winning it, or just carelessly spending our money on it outright.

Funny thing is, nowadays, I am buying this exact same stuff for my own kids. It's like they never stopped manufacturing it or changed it in any way. During this past year's Ox Roast (Fourth of July Festival) here in Rutland, I ended up having to buy two sets of those weapon packs (western style) with the cheap weapons. Good stuff. LOL

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