35 Years later this Big Wheel is still tearing up the streets…


By Shawn Robare

It’s kind of weird when you think about the difference in experiences between “normal” folks and nostalgia addicts when we stumble upon something that makes us flash back on our youth.  I think there’s a yin and yang to how we perceive nostalgia situations reflect each other like a mirrored image.  For instance, when I find myself out searching through antique stores or flea markets with friends who don’t live with and embrace nostalgia on a daily basis we tend to have completely different reactions when we stumble across items.  Say we happen upon a booth with a bunch of old NES consoles and games.  For me, this is a pretty common thing to see out in the wild and it’s not something that stops me in my tracks or really grabs me when I see it.  I’ve had friends that happen upon a dealer like this and their mind is blown as they’re rocketed back to the fifth grade and memories of all their favorite games start rushing back.  It’s not to say that I have no nostalgia for Nintendo games, just that I live with it enough that it’s not something that wows me.  For me, to really be wowed anymore I usually have to stumble upon something that simply should not exist 30 years after it was released.  So when I find stuff like old cereal boxes, figural shampoo bottles, or toys that weren’t designed to be stored or “collected” (like the infamous MOTU Battle Cat Hopper kid’s riding toy.)

bazooka-clean   Battle-Cat-Hopper

What’s weird is that I’ve been with friends who look at this stuff and think I’m a little crazy for getting excited about what they basically view as trash.  I mean who saved or wants to buy an old shampoo bottle, even if it looks like Bazooka from G.I. Joe (I slowly raise my hand.)  Who would drop $600 on a broken kid’s hopper toy even if it is a blow mold shaped like Battle Cat (I start to raise my hand, then agree that $600 is way too much – if it were $200 though…)  I guess it’s all in the experience of collecting and how that changes the way someone views thinks as treasure or junk.  As collectors and folks who live and breath nostalgia it’s easy to become desensitized to the wonder that common antiques can have on those who aren’t mired in collecting.

The reason that I’ve been thinking about this is that I had a weird experience while out on my daily run this morning.  As I made my way around the neighborhood I came to a point with a lengthy straightaway where you can see down the street for three or four blocks.  As I got closer to a cross street where I usually hang a right I saw a couple of kid’s big wheels out on a lawn and it occurred to me that, that is something you don’t see very often these days.  There were a number of years from the mid-90s to the just recently when there weren’t any companies producing them anymore in favor of stuff like razor scooters or mini dirt bikes.  I had heard that they were making a comeback though, and figured that they were finally starting to get out there again.  I kind of silently half joked that it would be amazing if one of them was an old school Dukes of Hazzard model since at a distance it looked black and orange much like the one I had when I was a kid…

125189906_0ee1fbc27dWhen I actually made my way up to the toy I ended up gasping and stopping dead in my tracks.  I’m sure I looked like a maniac to anyone who might have been watching, but I cupped my hand to my mouth and just stared at the big wheel for a minute not believing what I was seeing.  Out on the corner of someone’s lawn in the middle of suburbia in 2015 was a 1980 Empire Toys CHiPs big wheel (with awesome bonus Topps Empire Strikes Back stickers on the seat…)

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If I had to guess I’d say that 97% of the population that might be jogging past this big wheel wouldn’t have given it a second glance or even realized that it was a 35 year-old antique that was miraculously still in use.  Maybe another 2% would recognize the CHiPs branding and would probably wonder if it was set out for the trash.  Then there are folks like me who are literally shocked and amazed into stopping dead in their tracks and then are seen awkwardly fumbling for their iPhone so they can snap some pictures of a relic that is literally out in the wild when it clearly should not exist.  I mean think about it.  Most parents don’t have the presence of mind to hang onto old action figures, dolls, or books let alone a toddler’s toy that was most likely heavily used and abused.  To store that away for 30-odd years in the hops that their child would someday have children of their own who could play with it?  I mean c’mon, that just doesn’t happen.  People buy new toys like this, they don’t save them.  And it’s not like the kid at the time had the presence of mind to save a CHiPs big wheel right?  “Hey mom, I hope some day that I also have a kid who loves Erik Estrada as much as I do, so I think we should put this awesome big wheel up in the attic…”

The thing is though, that, that is exactly what happened, or at least one of those scenarios.  After snapping some pictures and posting them on Instagram I went back to my run and tried to image who this person was.  When I made my way back around for the second lap I saw that the CHiPs big wheel was now in use by kid who was out shredding up the pavement, doing doughnuts around his dad who was out walking the dog.  The guy looked like he was about my age and I really wanted to stop and ask him about the history of the toy and how he manged to hang on to it for all these years.  But the more I thought about doing that the more insane it the proposed conversation started to sound in my head.  How would you react to some stranger jogging by excitedly asking about your son’s toys.  Yeah, pretty weird.

Well, I may not have had the opportunity to hear the story behind this CHiPs big wheel, but I’m glad that I stumbled across it this morning and that it got me thinking about how sometimes it can be really weird to be a nostalgia addict…

  • DUSTINDUSTRIES

    I can Dig it. I remember seeing that Photo of you on The General Lee way Big Wheel way back on Branded. I have a Custom General Lee Foot scooter in my Lounge and a Tattoo of The General on my Calf muscle. I think if you were to show the CHiPs owner the Photo of your Big Wheel he would be happy to talk with you about it. It must hold a lot of memories for him also. Nostalgiaholic!

    • Yeah, hoping he’s outside one of these mornings without the kids so it’ll seem less creepy if I ask him about it. I remember you showing me a picture of your custom scooter, so awesome!

  • Ryan Prinkey

    I had the General Lee Big Wheel as a kid and it was awesome! I rode it until there were large holes in the plastic wheels. Every kid in my neighborhood had a big wheel.

    • Same here, on both accounts. I think that was one of the reasons that I was so surprised to see that CHiPs big wheel in such great condition. I expected one that old would have holes all over the wheels, you know, from all the power slides kids performed while riding it!

  • Retromash

    I can just imagine the inner dialogue you must have had regarding whether or not you should ask this stranger about his son’s toy. That must have been hard not to ask him.

    And I totally agree about your earlier point about nostalgia. I sometimes feel a bit bad when people get really excited about something that I now take as ‘standard retro’, saying “Hey do you remember The A-Team?!” when they hear the music in some advert or something and I’m like “Um, yeh I watched it on DVD last week”. I try not to be a retro snob, I’m actually probably jealous of their reaction because I personally don’t get that “Hey do you remember” moment much these days because I’ve researched and archived most of my memories.

    And I am also in that 0.1% or whatever it is that loves things that other people would consider trash. The ephemera that is leaflets, magazines, posters, packaging etc. It’s those things that really get me excited these days because I can find things that I never knew existed.

    • We are totally on the same page. I so wish that I could get the nostalgia feels for just encountering stuff like the A-Team or the Smurfs. But that’s the side effect of steeped in this stuff. You start to crave something more…acquired in taste. Like people who are chocoholics tend to start drifting away from milk chocolate or Hershey bars and start seeking out the high cacao percentage dark chocolates. The bitterness is more appreciated the more you dig into it.

      • Retromash

        Great analogy!

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