by Keith Barber


Nerf seems like one of those inventions that came into existence as a byproduct of the US space program, although there’s no documentation to prove that urban legend. Along with Tang and Velcro, Nerf balls, hoops and various Nerf-related toys were a favorite stocking-stuffer for children of the 1970s. Nerf toys gave parents the peace of mind that their children could play in the house without destroying the furniture or breaking a window. The ultimate homage came in the 1982 film, The Empire Strikes Back, when Princess Leia insulted Han Solo by calling him a “Nerf herder.”




GI Joe action figures were a popular toy long before the 1970s but the military toy designed for young boys has stood the test of time, even inspiring a summer blockbuster movie a few years ago. GI Joe has been a staple of the toy industry for decades by adapting to the times and reintroducing itself to each new generation.




One of the best Christmas mornings ever was when I found a miniature air-hockey table I found under our Christmas at the age of 10. The Sears & Roebuck catalog seemed to have a monopoly of the best miniature versions of popular barroom games like pool, air hockey and foosball. My older brother and I would spend hours and hours in death matches on the miniature air hockey table.




When my brother got a miniature pool table from the Sears & Roebuck Wish Book, I was extremely envious. Whenever friends would come to visit, we would engage in hyper-competitive games of billiards. Sears also made a game called Pocket Pool, which featured a pivoting piston that fired the cue ball. Letting a device fire your shots seemed like kids stuff to us big boys.




It seems like every kid in my neighborhood had a motocross bicycle when I was growing up. Like the famous scene in Napoleon Dynamite, we would often take our bikes off “sweet jumps.” When I recall some of the crazy stuff we did — like lying on the asphalt on the other side of the ramp in a show of total trust of our friends prowess on his BMX bike — it’s a wonder we emerged from childhood in one piece.




My Top 2 heroes as a child were Spider-Man and Evel Knievel. Knievel’s daring jumps over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace and his much publicized (and failed) rocket-ship launch across the Snake River Canyon made him a legend in the minds of all 10-year-olds. Toy companies quickly jumped on the bandwagon with a rubberized action figure that could fit comfortably on a toy motorcycle that you wound up with a hand crank. The Scramble Van offered the opportunity to create stories about Evel’s life on the road and a cool ramp that would allow for jumps that included back flips.




One of the simplest toys of all time, the Slinky is immortalized in the Saturday-morning jingle, “A Slinky, a Slinky, for fun it’s a wonderful toy; a Slinky, a Slinky, it’s fun for a girl and a boy.” Making the Slinky successful “walk” down a flight of stairs was an irresistible challenge for all kids. Personally, I couldn’t get past the third step.



The skateboard craze of the 1970s has made a huge comeback in the 21 st century with the enormous popularity of Tony Hawk and the X Games. In the 1970s, skateboards were much narrower and higher off the ground, which made them much less safe. Parents had to invest in helmets, knee pads or elbow pads to save themselves thousands in hospital bills.




The game of Life offered the marvelous opportunity for children to be burdened with adult decisions. Should I go to college or get a job after high school? Should I get married or stay single? Should I invest in T-bills or play the stock market? Despite the adult themes, Life was one of my favorite board games as a kid.




Superheroes were all the rage in the 1970s. 7-11 convenience stores offered a line of Slurpee cups featuring the popular comic characters of that age. Each week, I would pedal my Huffy BMX bike to the local 7-11 in the hopes that this week, my Slurpee would feature my favorite superhero of all time — Spider-Man. I never got the coveted Spider-Man Slurpee cup, but I did have several Spider-Man action figures along with Superman, Batman, Robin, the Hulk, the Flash and Green Lantern.


Rainy afternoons became storytelling time as I created my own comic-book stories with my superhero friends.