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Toy stories

Back in the day, toys were what you found around the house, inside or outside. Knock a rock over the fence with a stick. Connect pencils and empty spools to make a tiny wagon. Or kick the can.

Well, sticks and rocks became bats and balls, pencils and spools became Tinkertoys, and a can became a football.

Old-timers remember fondly the Sears “Wish Book” of their childhood, the annual Christmas catalog where they could find pages of toys to give them ideas for their letters to Santa.

Toys have become more complicated over the years. Simple books, dolls and stuffed animals still delight, but children of today also clamor for electronics and toys with microprocessors in them.

You can still buy Mr. Potato Head, Silly Putty, or Play-Doh. But atop many lists are cell phones, video game consoles, and robots.

In the accompanying sidebar, you’ll find a list of some of the most popular toys of each decade, from the 1920s to the 2010s. See if one of your favorites is among them.

Several Rogue Valley residents, when asked about their all-time favorite toys when they were kids, were quick to respond. The looks on each of their faces said the child within was still alive and well.

Reading about their choices and why those toys were so much fun for them might bring back some Christmas memories of your own.

Clive Rosengren of Ashland, a confessed cynic, said he was tempted to say his favorite was a lump of coal, because they were so poor on the South Dakota plains.

“But I remember with great relish getting a chemistry set when science was in my sights. It was fun to stink up my room with sulfur and other concoctions.”

Angela Decker of Ashland said her fave was a stuffed raccoon.

“I named it 'Truly Scrumptious' because I’d just seen 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' on TV. I loved her so hard that her eyes and nose fell off. When I was a teenager, I told my mom to give it away. After telling my son the story years later, he surprised me with another stuffed raccoon. We named it 'Son-of-Truly-Scrumptious.'”

Vicki Williams of Medford said her Snow White doll was an all-time favorite.

“It was special because it was a gift from my aunt, my favorite person.” The doll suffered some superficial burns in a fire, but she kept it — “with bandages covering all the singe marks!”

Keith Thorp of Klamath Falls, visiting the Rogue Valley recently, said his favorite was his BB gun.

“I was a farm boy and I loved to shoot at targets. Some of them were tin cans, but yes, some of them were birds and small animals.”

Susan Sullivan of Ashland immediately thought of her Muffy doll she had in the fourth grade.

“My sister and I both had one. I loved it because she had movable arms and legs and curly blond hair. I used to try to make clothes for them, which was a challenge. I wish we had not given them away after we outgrew them.”

Neal Smith of Jacksonville loved his Battling Tops game, and quickly Googled a photo of it to show it off.

“There were four tops that you’d wind up and spin onto a small arena, with pockets in the four corners.” He’d play the game with friends, each trying to knock the others’ tops into the pockets. “Last one standing was the winner.”

Mason Decker of Ashland had a passion for K’NEX when he was a pre-teen.

“They’re sort of like Legos, but with interlocking rods, blocks, gears, wheels and connectors. They had small motors, too, so you could build really complex models like roller coasters and Ferris wheels.”

Jackie Donnelly of Phoenix said she had a lot of dolls growing up, but her favorite was one named Cozette.

“I’m not sure why. I think it was because she had so much personality. She was sassy.” Donnelly declined to say if she identifies with the sassy part.

Jerry Kenefick of Ashland named a favorite that has entertained many a family over the years.

“For me, it was the game of Monopoly. I liked the challenge of being number one. I was a competitive kid.” He still enjoys being number one when he competes at the local bridge clubs.

Kay Bain of Ashland said board games were her favorite, growing up.

“We played a lot of different board games. It was fun for the whole family. I also liked them because most of them were multi-generational.”

Andrea Shapiro of Ashland had no trouble naming the Erector Set as her favorite.

“I loved putting things together. I told my father I wanted to be an engineer. He said girls couldn’t do that.” She had the last word, however. Her last job before she retired was as one of the first female contractors in Southern Oregon.

David Florian of Ashland has fond memories of his electric train set.

“I got an American Flyer set for Christmas one year. When I was in the ninth grade we moved, and the kid next door had a substantial Lionel train set-up. We decided to combine our assets in one place, building a table-height ‘city’ with tunnels and bridges and what seemed like miles of track.”

Alice Mallory of Ashland had dolls and board games, but her favorites were small farm toys.

“I had animals, vehicles, equipment, fences, barns and farmhouses. Playing with them took me to an imaginary world as I built paths, roads, pastures, corrals, trails and highways, transporting me beyond my southeast Los Angeles neighborhood.”

Graham Lewis of Ashland mentioned a few favorites.

“In early childhood it was ants. I loved to sit under a tree in my pedal car and watch them carry food back to their hideout.” He said it was fun to disrupt the line and watch them regroup. “In elementary school, my favorite was a camera.” He still carries one with him as he makes his rounds for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

Susanne Severeid of Ashland remembers her teddy bear Bobo as a favorite. "He went everywhere with me. It had been passed down to me from my older brother. My dad even saved Bobo from washing away in a mountain stream on a family camping trip. Dad charged out into the middle of the river in his hip-high waders and scooped up Bobo in his fishing net. What a hero!"

—Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland.

These 1940s-era kids were excited to find a View Master under the Christmas tree. [Courtesy image]