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Homemade Toys

During the depression years of the 1930’s and on through WW II there was
not very much money with which to buy toys. Usually mother and dad made
most of the toys the children played with, thus the popularity of the
‘rag doll’. the wooden pull toys, etc. There was also the corn cob doll, with a
face drawn on one end of the corn cob and the shucks used to make the clothes,
and tying them on with string unraveled from a feed sack.

Sears and Roebuck unknowingly provided a lot of free toys to pass the time
of day. Perhaps the first paper dolls were pictures cut from a Sears catalog.
With a pair of scissors, a Sears catalog, an old shoebox and a nickel bottle
of LePages glue a little girl could have hours of fun. After cutting the figures
out of the catalog they were glued onto a piece of cardboard cut from the
shoe box. The cardboard was then cut from around the figures,
leaving ‘wings’ at the bottom to be folded back so that the figure
would stand upright.

After preparing the figures for mother, daddy and the children, the ‘house’
now needed furnishing. This was accomplished by going back to the Sears
catalog and cutting out pictures of a range and refrigerator for the
kitchen, a couch and chair for the living room and bed, dresser and chest for
the bedroom. These pictures were also glued to the cardboard and cut out
with the ‘wings’ at the bottom so that they would stand upright.
The furniture could be changed at any time with just a little cutting and gluing.

The old Sears catalogs went through three phases. First, they were used to
order clothing and other necessities from until they were replaced with a new
catalog. Next, they were given to the children to use to cut their
‘paper dolls’ out, and finally the old catalogs were
carried to the ‘outhouse’.

The boys usually found something outside to play with. One thing was an old
car tire. We would get one to rolling and then chase it with a stick and keep
punching it with the stick to see how far you could get it to go before
falling over, all without touching it with your hands. Boy, did we
get a lot of good exercise chasing those tires!

Another item that was fun was an old barrel hoop. The way the barrels were
shaped, tapered in at the top and bottom, the end hoops were sloped to
one side and would not roll straight. You would have to find the hoop
from the middle of the barrel to get a straight one. Besides being fun
to roll, you could put one around your waist and swing it
around and around. The original ‘hula hoop’. Boy, did someone make a
killing on that!

Most of the boys in the country had a ‘sling shot’, we had another name for
them which I won’t say now. You would find a forked limb about an inch in
diameter and cut it about 6 inches below the fork and leave about 6 inches
of each fork. Where we lived cedar was about the best wood to use unless
you could find a boise d’arch tree. You would then need a couple of
strips of rubber. At that time one rubber company made innertubes
from a red rubber that was really stretchy. If you could find one of those
red innertubes you had some good rubber for your ‘sling shot’. Next, you
needed an old shoe that you could cut the tongue out of to use as a
pouch for the rock. After tying all this together and a little
practice, then you were ready to go bird hunting.

Living in the country there was no problem of running out in the street and
getting run over or being kidnapped. The only things that we had to
worry about was being bitten by a rattle snake, getting gored by a
bull or getting kicked by one of the horses. I did get
kicked in the head by a horse one time.

Something else that was fun to make and play with was a ‘button hummer.’
You need about 2 to 2 1/2 feet of twine string, usually unraveled from
a feed sack or flour sack, and an old button. Run the string through the two
holes in the button and tie the ends together to form a loop. Put a
thumb through each end of the loop with the button in the
center. Letting the twine hang loose, sling the button around a few times
to get it started twisting on the twine.

Now, spread your hands apart slowly, tightening up the twine and making the
button spin back to where the twing is not twisted. Just as the button
reaches this point, relax and let the button twist up the other direction. As
the button begins to stop, spread your hands apart again to force it to
unwind, again relaxing and letting it wind up in the opposite
direction. Keep repeating this until the button is twisting the string up
on your thumbs and beginning to hum. You can adjust the speed of the button
by how hard you pull on the twine each time you spread your hands. The
harder you pull, the faster the button will spin and the louder it
will get. You can change the tone by using different
size/shape buttons. This was something to make and play with while
sitting arount the wood heater in the winter when the weather was
too bad to go outside,

This is just a small list of things children used to play with that were
not bought at the store. There were the wire puzzles that dad made while
sitting by the fire in the winter, or the spinner tops carved from the old
wooden spools that sewing thread came on, with a stick stuck through
the middle to form a point. The list just goes on and on,
but with a little imagination the children could come up with innumerable
thing to keep themselves occupied without spending
dads hard earned money.

John Watson

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