5 Retro Toys Remembered

Yesterday’s playthings can inspire grownup passions

The vintage playthings featured in Toys of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s at the Minnesota History Center (opening May 24)—Slinky, G.I. Joe, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Star Wars figurines—were the stuff of fun (and obsession) for at least a generation of youngsters. But sometimes child’s play can lead to grownup business—for a few Minnesotans, toys sparked interests that lasted a lifetime.


Big Wheel

I have very fond memories of my Big Wheel. It was a G.I. Joe–themed menace to society. My first competitive race was on my Big Wheel, somewhere in Minneapolis, and it led to a lifetime of motor sports. I had to retire my amazing machine because I literally rode the wheels off of it. The entire center of the front tire had been worn away from the torture I put it through. // Kris Skellenger • Motorcycle racer, Central Roadracing Association



Easy Bake Oven

The Easy Bake Oven was so satisfying—being able to do it myself, and to eat what I made warm, which was delicious. I made things with it in the basement with my brother; that’s where we set up a little restaurant with Play-Doh hamburgers. It flashes back for me now, about the science of how the littlest things can then make amazing things—how the intense heat from a light bulb can make a mini-cake. // Michelle Gayer • Pastry chef, Salty Tart Bakery



Pet Rock

I recall the Pet Rock craze from my high-school days in the 1970s, but no one that I knew took them very seriously. So when you’d get one as a gift, it was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, “You’re dumb as a rock.” Later, when I began to study geology in college, I could only smile when the professor would say, “Let the rocks speak to you.” // Greg Brick • Geologist, author of Subterranean Twin Cities




When I was a kid, the options were scrap-lumber blocks, Lincoln Logs, or Legos.  The blocks fell over too easily on shag carpet, Lincoln Logs always ended up looking like a log cabin, but Legos were both stable and adaptable. You could make anything as long as it was a box or boxes. All of my projects now start with a box. // Phillip Koski • Architect, KOSKI/architecture


Model Train

I had some smaller model-railroad sets, with the train around the Christmas tree. I still do. I was a train buff without really trying to be one—it was in my blood, I guess. My father was a train operator in Florida with Seaboard Coast Line. I was around railroads a lot and heard about it a lot—at the end of the day, we’d talk about work, and it was always railroads. // John Paul Zanaska • Director, Northstar Commuter Rail Operations and Maintenance