Marx Toys was a pretty damn good toymaker. They produced two of my favorite toys when I was a kid: The Johnny West action figure line (a subject for a future blog perhaps) and plastic toy soldiers. Lots of toy companies offered toy soldiers, but I think Marx’s were the best.
The amount of detail Marx put in them was very impressive. There were facial expressions. There were German soldiers and Japanese soldiers wearing what appeared to be fairly accurate uniforms. There were also officers. And Marx produced soldiers being shot, suffering from a wound, and ones that were dead. The dead ones were always the enemy, though.
I had their Guns of Navarone playset in the early 1970s. The playset had more than 200 pieces, which included military vehicles, canons, and, of course, the mountain stronghold. As a youthful pedant, I noticed the scale of the vehicles didn’t quite match that of the soldiers, but I realized that it would be difficult to make everything at a matching scale. Either the soldiers would have to be much smaller or the vehicles much larger. I would just have to use my imagination.
So, that’s what I did.
At some point, I devised a battle that pitted my toy soldiers against my Shogun Warriors. I would spend hours deploying my troops into position. They were set on precariously balanced boxes and encyclopedias, awaiting the attack from those towering robots. The Warriors would attack and utterly laid waste to those valiant men.
I’ll admit that pitting toy soldiers against toy robots isn’t all that strange of a way to treat toy soldiers (or toy robots, for that matter), but I’m not done.
In the mid-70s, my family would go on vacation each summer, which usually meant a drive to a cabin resort in the lake area of northwestern Wisconsin. On one occasion, there was a road trip from St. Paul, MN to sunny San Jose, CA. For most of those vacations, the family vehicle was an old station wagon, I forget which brand. And, because my younger brother and I were the youngest (and the smallest) of the four siblings, we got to sit in the “way back.”
The “way back” was meant for cargo. There was no seat let alone seat belts. The two of us had a space way back in the “way back” between the luggage and coolers and against the gate or whatever you call it. We had a great view of the road behind us.
When it was warm enough and it wasn’t raining, Dad would lower the “way back” window and my brother and I could get the thrill of the wind in our hair and being a gate malfunction away from tumbling onto to the highway and to our deaths. Luckily, the gate never malfunctioned.
Having the window down, my brother and I hatched a brilliant idea. “Let’s take some kite string and tie a toy soldier to a length of it and drag the soldier behind us as Dad drives!” Well, we both agreed it was a brilliant idea, even if we don’t remember which of us came up with it.
So, that’s what we did.
The soldier would bounce off the road every which way. And whenever a car began to gain on us, we’d just reel in the string. When it was clear again, out would go the hapless soldier to gain even more nasty road rash. It was hours of fun.
Torturing toy soldiers might not seem that much more strange than having them slaughtered by giant robots, but I’m not done.
In about 1974 or so, the city of St. Paul decided the old Hayden Heights neighborhood library needed to be replaced and built a new, larger branch kitty-corner to the old one. The old one became a clock store, while the new one began to take shape.
Much the same way my parents weren’t all that concerned with my brother’s and my safety as we traveled in the “way back,” it seemed the city of St. Paul wasn’t all that concerned with keeping us kids out of the construction area of the new branch. As I recall, we seemed to have access to the dug out area for the foundation. We could get to the foundation walls, which were made of basic cinder block. And as such, those cinder block walls had large gaps at the top. A gap in which something could be placed…
My ten year-old brain hit upon an interesting idea. Why not put a toy soldier in the cinder block of that foundation wall?
Yeah! Why not?!
So, that’s what I did.
In went a brave infantryman to stand guard inside that wall. To this day, when I drive by that library I think of that toy soldier and his sentry duty that’s lasted more than four decades. That part of the foundation wall, however small, has a soldier ready to protect it.
That action done as a ten year-old didn’t stop with the library. Through the years, I have placed toy soldiers in secret places to be hidden for all time or until the building is razed or the sidewalk dug up. Throughout my house there are hidden toy soldiers. They are in the insulation in the space between the walls and the replacement windows. There’s a soldier inside the corner of the porch wall, put there when the old, rotted wood needed replacing. Out in the backyard, there’s one inside the retaining wall I helped my dad put in by the driveway.
And, just this past Sunday, I took a table out of the garage to put on the porch. I had to take apart the base in order to get it in the house (the tabletop had already been removed). That’s when I noticed the center column of the table was hollow.
A light went on above my head. I went upstairs and asked my son where his old toy soldiers were. We found them in his rather stuffed closet (not as stuffed as Fibber McGee’s*, however) and I selected one for this important mission. I taped him in place so that he’ll stay standing and I put the table back together.
As long as that table is intact, he’ll be standing guard.
Now, that is a little strange, isn’t it?
*10 points if you get this reference.
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