Backyard Battlefields

Realistic Weaponry Once Ruled The Toy World

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Homo sapiens is an intrinsically predatory species. It’s tucked someplace within our DNA. One need only survey male kindergarteners on a playground to discover incontrovertible evidence of this. I once read it was possible for parents to raise male children without toy guns — they just shouldn’t be surprised when little Timmy chews his toast into the shape of a pistol and shoots them with it.

My generation grew up awash in remarkably realistic toy renditions of military weapons yet we had exactly zero school shootings. Today’s kinder, gentler era of gender ambiguity and ubiquitous hypersensitivity has hardly excised the more primal aspects of our humanity.

I collect guns compulsively and I have no idea why. It’s a fairly commonplace obsession but I also went through a phase wherein I conscientiously cruised eBay instead of GunBroker in search of cool additions to the gunroom. Here are a few of my treasures.

The Marx “Tommygun” was a scaled-down take of the 1928 original. Some poetic
license was taken in the case of the replica!

Backyard Battleground

Marx Toys was the alpha predator among toy guns when I was a kid in the 1960s and ’70s. They produced M16s, Thompsons, BARs, wheelguns in a wide variety of flavors and Western-style saddle guns. Their premier Winchester lever-action replica was titled, “The Marx-Man Ricochet Carbine.” Marx-Man…marksman. How cool is that?

My Marx Tommygun was a scale rendition of the 1928 original replete with drum magazine and faux wood-grain plastic stock. The trigger activated a noisemaking contrivance that replicated the staccato hammering of the real deal while simultaneously scraping a flint against steel. Back then, a small child equipped with one could not only run around thinking himself a miniature soldier but he could also liberally spray his immediate environs with real live fire-starting sparks. Apparently there were not so many plaintiffs’ attorneys back then.

My Marx M16 was a remarkably realistic model of a Model 02 M16 rifle. The astute gun nerd will note the solid stock without a trap door, slab-sided upper receiver, three-prong flash suppressor, and sort-of realistic controls. This gun sported the same sort of noisemaker — only without all the spark hazards of the company’s Thompson.

Johnny Eagle was the Rolls Royce of the man-child armory back when I was a lad. Their guns included removable magazines filled with cartridges being fed and ejected just like the real deal. When you squeezed the trigger a spring inside each round fired a detachable plastic bullet out the bore. The actions had to be manually cycled but these things could pass for live weapons in dim light. Nobody painted muzzles blaze orange back then unless they wanted to simulate muzzle flashes.

This HK-inspired MP5SD fed plastic strip caps through a detachable magazine. Will claims to
have been fooling with this one long after he should have “set aside childish things.”

Fire in the hole! Will remembers the Marx “Tommygun” for its full-auto sound effects
and the accompanying shower of upholstery-charring sparks!

Fantasy Shootouts

Johnny Eagle also had four different kits. The “Red River” set included a rather fanciful rendition of your “Old West” Colt Single Action Army and Winchester rifle. The “Magumba” pistol and rifle equipped any diminutive big-game hunters in the family. The ”Skeet-Shooter” set offered tamer stuff. The Lieutenant set outfitted kids like me who dreamt of serving their country in uniform.

The “Lieutenant” set included an M14 rifle and an M1911A1 pistol. The M14, incidentally, included a stamped-steel, ventilated upper hand guard and, if I recall correctly, a battery-powered noisemaking system in the butt. The 1911A1 featured a reciprocating slide. Both guns had detachable magazines. Neither gun shot really hard, but they’d still reliably injure an eye at close range (it’s a wonder we didn’t all sport eye patches before high school).

The Johnny Eagle “Lieutenant .45” (right) was a spot-on rendition of the GI-issue M1911A1 (left).
This politically-incorrect toy used and ejected plastic cartridges while firing hard plastic bullets.

The Marx M16 replicated the Model 02 M16 being used in Vietnam. The attention to detail is impressive.

All Cap, No Ball

My Heckler & Koch-inspired MP5SD cap gun fed plastic strip caps through a detachable magazine. The mechanism advanced the strip, fired a cap, cut the spent cap with a spring-loaded blade, and ejected the empty each time you squeezed the trigger. It was just like the real deal complete with smoke, proper ejection, and a suppressed bang. The caps were corrosive and there was no provision for cleaning, but mock combat would destroy all these things long before maintenance became a problem.

I know I’m biased, but I just think things were better back then.

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