There’s no predicting the things that will pop into a person’s memory for long ago. And so it is that on a late autumn day we were talking about this and that and the subject that arose was:
The Spud Gun
I have no idea how many of you may remember this toy from the 1950’s, but it played a curious role in my youth.
You see every year, a couple times a year, the family took a road trip. For sure we would hit the road when my dad had his annual vacation! And because he worked for Wisconsin Electric at one of their generating stations once a month he also got 5 days in a row off (in recompense for a work cycle that had him working all three shifts, in rotation, every month); on at least one of those monthly extended weekends we would also hit the road and go some place… just not quite so far.
We saw a lot of the country on those family outings but I was a rambunctious little boy who used to drive his parents bonkers asking, repeatedly: “How much longer” or “How many more miles” or “When are we going to get there” until I was threatened with bodily violence if I didn’t just sit still and wait. My parents never did make good on those threats of violence — not their way — and I’m thankful for that. I got my share of swats on the butt — they did believe in corporal punishment and I (fortunately) was a quick study who only remembers getting swatted three or four times in his life. But I remember the glow that went with mouthing off to my mom!
Back to my story…
On those trips, in an effort to appease the little beast — meaning me — my parents resorted to blackmail. Each day I was given a small amount of money; I have no idea how much — I’ll bet it wasn’t as much as a dollar — in those days a dollar was a lot of money. But I’d be given the money early in the day and some time during the day, or it’s travels, we would stop off at a store: toy store, gift shop, hardware, you name it — I would go inside, and pick out something that I wanted — to keep my occupied while we drove.
Of course that meant the joy of looking for a place to stop. So that kept me busy. Then there was the actual shopping — I don’t remember that ever taking me very long — it seemed that the world was full of things I could buy with not very much money. And then there was the quiet playing with my prize in the back end of the station wagon as we drove on down the road.
The only two things I remember having bought on those trips were: a tiny (as in maybe 8”) bow and arrow, and a spud gun. I’ve never met any other kid who even remembers a spud gun, but I had one. It was a little die cast toy that you would stick the pointy end into a potato, twist it gently and then pull the ‘gun’ out of the potato. A small piece of ‘tater would lodge in the barrel of the gun and pulling the trigger would force air to compress and propel the little bit of spud out the end as a projectile. Think a sort of soft BB gun using potatoes as ammunition!
After a couple days of play two things happened. The rear windows of the station wagon became difficult to see through — all those little bits of spuds left angry starch marks on the window — which I was, one day, dispatched to wash off the windows. And secondly, all those little bits of ’tater landed some place inside the car and accumulated. I have no idea if mom had a ‘portable’ vacuum in those days but I remember for sure going out to the car when we got home, a brush and a dustpan in hand to search out all those little bits of spud!
Why that silly toy should have stayed in my memory when none of the others did is beyond me — though there may be some connection to how irritated my parents became with the consequences of my purchase. Maybe I delighted in annoying them? But it’s the one, odd memory that sticks in my craw. They no longer exist — though I have hear of modern day ‘spud guns’ which shoot entire potatoes — something that is more an adult toy (or maybe should be an adult toy). Bigger isn’t always better!
If you went on road trips as a kid how did your parents keep you quiet? Just curious… other parents must have had their own tricks.
I know that we almost never stayed in hotels with a pool. In those days hotel pools were still quite rare. And we spent very little time in a hotel room. We traveled quickly to get to our destination — so not much time during an overnight stay to use a pool. Then when we arrived at our destination we were too busy going and doing and seeing to spend much if any time in a hotel pool either. I remember more than a few times when I was asked what would I rather…. a hotel with a pool or …. and the “or” was always something my parents knew I would like more than the swimming pool…. So I don’t have memories of lounging around a posh swimming pool in the sun… but I have lot of memories about caves and the Civil War and birds and animals and neat stuff. Not sure I saw a little girl in a cute bathing suit until I was way older than I should have been! 🙂 But this pacifist got his picture taken sitting on a whole lot of Civil War cannons! Who’s idea was that anyway?
Anyway… there you have my Spud Gun story. Not sure what you’re going to do with it. Or why I told it. But there it is…. just out there…. Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.