Remember when stuff was made out of metal. Not just the things that we’re accustomed to being made out of metal like shovels, automobiles, grandma’s sewing machine, or dad’s wheelbarrow, but kids stuff. Remember when toys were built to last more than a few months of rough-and-tumble play time and would still be fairly functional after tossing them off of the neighborhood bridge and into the dry creek bed below? Remember that? Well, at the risk of dating myself, I must admit that I do.
Coming into the world in the 1960’s was an experience on so many levels that it would fill volumes, and that colorful time in American history has already been thoroughly documented by countless others. But, I don’t want to talk about the drugs, or the free love movement that the 60’s were infamous for. I want to talk about kids stuff. More specifically metal kids stuff. In the mid 1960’s, the era into which I was born, society was only a couple of decades out of the Second World War and the manufacturing mind-set was still concentrated on durability. Even with the war behind us, people still wanted things to last, and as such, they had to be built to last. What better way to make a product that lasts than to make it entirely out of good old American Steel.
My brother and I were raised in a frugal household. In 1967 I was three years old my dad was still in college. We didn’t have much. But my dad, a farm-boy by rearing, was raised by a father who would just as soon build something himself than waste hard earned money buying it so, dad was very in-tune with the need to have things that were made to last a while.
On Christmas morning of that same year, brother and me woke up early and snuck out to take a look at what “Santa” had brought us. There were the stockings hung by the fireplace spilling over with tiny packages and the regular boxes with bows and ribbons under the tree. But, in addition to those seasonal sights, and traditional geometrically shaped packages adorned in bright wrapping paper and bows, over by the dining room table sat two abnormally large and oddly shaped packages. The tag on the one with rounded edges had my brother’s name on it and the other more rectangle shaped package adorned with a large red bow tied on top was for me. Once these huge packages were identified as ours, we forgot about the other gifts, the stockings and all, and ran to the dining room where we proceeded to tear through the wrapping paper. After the flurry of brightly colored paper and bows sailing through the air had settled, we discovered that that each of us had a brand new pedal car.
Not just any pedal cars, my brother’s was a race car and mine was a fire truck and each was constructed out of heavy gauge sheet metal. Ah yes, spot welded, pop-riveted American Steel; the stuff that dreams were made of; structurally sound, long lasting stuff. Fun stuff. Kids stuff. Metal stuff.
It’s a good thing that these pedal cars were made so well, because we drove them hard, bumping into fire hydrants, launching off of curbs, but through all of our abuse, they remained structurally sound. The only sign of our rough treatment was a little paint missing here and there.
Brother and I drove these cars for probably a year before we grew weary of them, but they still had many good years in them. Why? You guessed it, because they were made of metal.
My father, in an effort to reignite our interest in the pedal cars and maximize his investment, he decided to give them a new life by painting them. My brothers race car became a taxi cab, complete with checkered door panels and a recycled mail box flag that my brother could drop when he picked up a fare. Usually the neighbor’s cat fit this bill just fine, although, at times participating quite unwillingly. My car was transformed from a now fading red fire engine to a police car. The ladders on the sides were removed and with the addition of a red plastic drinking cup affixed upside-down to the hood with construction adhesive and the traditional black and white paint job complete with a big star on each door, I was now able to fulfill my second favorite childhood career aspiration; a policeman.
Oh what fun we had those couple of years with our metal mobile machines. Ultimately, we finally outgrew them and they were handed down to younger kids in the neighborhood. I can only imaging the years of fun that the new owners had with them and the owners after that. My only regret was not having the foresight when I was 4 years old to insist that my father keep the original paint job and the packaging because those old metal pedal cars are worth hundreds of dollars today. Some models can now fetch thousands of dollars at auction. Who knew, huh?
Have you ever had a metal pedal car of that or a similar era? Tell me about it.