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TOYS AND GAMES

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Bicycles were our major “toy” in the 30’s. Most bikes in the early part of my childhood had thin tires and were either 26” or 28” bikes. There were smaller 20” bikes too but I don’t recall having one of those. We had tricycles too. My first bike of note was a “balloon tire bike” that I got for Christmas when I was about 12 or 13. I still have a photo of me outside the house with a leather coat proudly showing off my new bike. We rode bikes all over the Heights and even to Yardville on occasion. When I was in my early teens Bunky Middleton and I rode to East Windsor on Route 33 to an airport there. We were watching the planes when a man asked me if I would like to take a ride. What a thrill for me. He fastened me in my seat belt and we took off and flew around the field. For a kid who had always been fascinated by airplanes and that first flight was a really exciting event. Afterwards, I felt sorry that Bunky hadn’t been able to get a ride too. Roger had an “Irish Mail”. This was a four wheeled cart on which he sat and propelled by pulling and pushing a handle which came up in the front on the cart Click here to see pictures We had “coaster” wagons too. One of ours had a wooden body and removable stake side and end pieces. We made scooters from a piece of wood and parts of a roller skate. The vertical handle was nailed on and had a cross piece to hold on to. We all had slingshots called “slappys”. We made them from a y shaped piece of tree to which we tied 2 strands of rubber cut from an old inner tube. The rubber pieces were joined by a small leather pocket, usually cut from an old shoe tongue. We used pebbles for the projectiles. Mostly we shot at tin cans, bottles but sometimes we went down to the lake by the dam and shot into the water at the bottom of the dam where the “city slickers” were fishing. Roller skates had all metal wheels and were held onto your shoes with toe clamps that were tightened with a skate key (something which we were always losing. The back end had a leather strap up over the ankle. Ice skates were very similar except that they had blades. We tried to sharpen the blades with a skate sharpener made of a round abrasive “stone” held in 2 metal pieces which guided the blade over the stone. We did have hockey sticks and pucks but not as elaborate as those today. Sometimes we tried to skate on the ice in big puddles in the farm field across the street from the house.

The ice there had corn stalk stubble sticking up through the ice. The farm across Highland Avenue usually raised horse corn so in the fall the corn would be cut and stacked in shocks. We liked to go into the shocks and make “teepees” or “forts” out of them. I’m sure the farmer didn’t like us doing it so we kept a lookout for him. We could usually see him coming in his truck across the field so we could run down to the woods before he got to us. Roger had some experience with the farmer after he and one of his friends played dive bombers with some small pumpkins. The farmer saw hem and came to our house, told my dad, As a result, Roger and his friend ended up spending several weekends shoveling out chicken droppings from the farmer's chicken houses. About the time of my preteens, Soap Box Derbies were popular. One of the auto companies sponsored a local contests with the winners going to the Soap Box Derby finals in Ohio. I never had an official “racer” but Clink Heaton built one. He had to use standard wheels but everything else was home made from boxes, scrap wood or junk from around the house.. The brake was a hinged piece of wood that you pushed down till it dragged on the ground. Steering was usually by pull ropes fastened to the pivoted front wheels. Later on, such racers became very sophisticated and were made from specially manufactured parts. Sometimes we would try to emulate sports people we saw in the News Reels. One sport was pole vaulting. We tended to use mother’s clothes props for the vaulting pole. For hurdles, we used saw horses. In the winter, of course, we had sleds. The Flexible Flyer” was the sled of choice. They came in various sizes and finishes but were favorites because their flexibility made them easy to steer. Mr. Totten had a great big “Bob Sled” which he would load up with people and pull around the neighborhood behind his car or truck. Mostly, we sledded on Bakers Hill, Lockwood's Hill or on the Bluff leading to the lake. I remember fondly coming home after dark, covered with snow, cold but happy after a day of sledding. It was a big treat to be allowed to go out after supper to go sledding or to go to the lake ice skating. in the winter. Inside, we played with erector sets. Sets of small metal beams, plates, axles and wheels which could be assembled with nuts and bolts into all kinds of buildings, bridges or machines. Some erector sets even had little electric motors. **** Click here to see pictures **** We played “Pick Up Sticks” quite often and at one point, Monopoly was the rage. We would play long games of Monopoly at our house or at Casons or someone else’s place. When we played cards (after I was 10 or 12) it was usually rummy or Old Maid. Marbles were popular in the spring and summer. Another indoor toy was the set of Lincoln Logs. Lincoln Logs were miniature logs with notches at each end. You could stack them up to make a log cabin or other structure. We each had a bag of marbles which we bought or collected somehow. I had a cloth bag with a draw string which my mother had made for me. The bag had “Don” stitched on it. Sometimes we had “steelies” which were actually ball bearings that we had gotten from some disassembled machinery. We had several games we played with marbles and all sorts of rules to argue over. It was important that when you shot ;your marble your knuckle had to touch the ground. I don’t remember the rules now but I was a reasonably good marble shooter. In my early teens, I had a baseball glove or two. Someone in the neighbor hood even had a catcher’s mitt and mask but that was the extent of our equipment other that wooden bats (Louisville Sluggers) and balls (nickel rockets). Mostly we played in a field alongside Heaton’s. It was covered with Indian Grass but Clink’s father mowed it for us and eventually we pulled up the stubble to make base paths. At various times we even had a chicken wire backstop to keep the balls from hitting the house. We spent endless hours perfecting our skills. Our baseballs were not very sturdy and occasionally the cover would get knocked off then we would have to tape it up with friction tape. On the rare occasions when I got a new glove, it was treated with great care to “break it in” properly. I kept it carefully oiled and polished. When I was in 7th or 8th grade, we had a local baseball team. Bill Reither and I were the mainstays as I recall. We played pickup teams from Lakeside and maybe Yardville. Our best play was a pitchout to pick off a base runner. It worked every time. Just recently, someone mentioned a game we used to play called “Buck, Buck, How Many Horns Are Up?”. I don’t recall much about it except there were wo teams. A couple of people fom one team leaned over at the waist and held on to the guy in front of him so a line was formed. Someone from the other team then ran and vaulted up on to the assembled chain. I think the idea was to see how many people you could get up on top opf the opposing team before the chain collapsed. Every boy in the mid 30’s had high tops. These were the forerunner of modern hiking boots I guess. They were leather boots that laced up the front with hooks and usually came up to near the knee. They had a little snap pocket on one of them to hold a pen knife. In addition to the pen knife, it was mandatory to have a “hunting knife”. I always had one that I wore in a leather belt holster. With either the hunting knife or the pen knife, we would play Mumblety Peg. This was a game where one had to perform various tricks with the knife in a certain sequence - like throwing it so it revolved end over end once before sticking in the ground, etc. We also had galoshes - or “4 buckle ahrbuckles” as they were sometimes called - to wear in the wet weather. Of course, living in the country and near the swamps we usually had a pair of black rubber hip boots. We had a “Pogo Stick” which was a vertical rod with a cross piece handle and a cross piece foot support. The foot piece rested on a heavy spring so that when you jumped on it the spring would compress then expand so that you kind of hopped up and down. The only problem was that sometimes your foot slipped off the rests and you banged your chin on the handle bars. I guess they still have them around.

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