Of Speeder Bikes and Jungle Gyms…


By Shawn Robare

Riffing on a idea that Jerzy Drozd (of the Art & Story podcast, as well as a co-host with my on the Saturday Supercast) mentioned on his new A&S Supreme content podcast, Thunderpunch Daily, I’ve been thinking about those (as he framed it) couch jumping moments we all had as kids.  A couch jumping moment is when you’re watching or reading something so awesome that you can’t help it and you use the living room furniture as a trampoline, jumping all over the place in excitement.  Now I know that I tend to reminisce a lot on Branded, and I honestly try very hard to provide a portal with which to “travel back in time” with the content of this site on a regular basis, but today I really want to take myself back to a specific moment.  Of the handful of completely vivid memories I have of my childhood, this is one of the fondest…

It’s 1984 and I’m seven years-old.  It’s around mid afternoon in central Florida on a Saturday, sometime in October or November.  I’d just recently moved from Tampa to the Orlando area, into a neighborhood that was a whole heck of a lot larger than the one I’d left behind.  My elementary school was just inside the subdivision proper, about a mile from our new house, and it and a near by 7-Eleven marked the edge of the area I was allowed to travel on my own.  I’d just made a pit-stop at the convenience store, filling my pockets with Nerds and Giant Chewy SweetTarts and grabbing a Big Gulp before heading back to the playground behind the school. Though I hated having to go to a new school, meeting new kids, and tackling division and multiplication in 2nd grade math, I loved the actual school building and the grounds around it. 

Though I doubt I thought much about it at the time, the sprawling octagon-shaped structure felt a lot like the architecture used by the Empire in the Star Wars flicks.  The outside had a lot of similar aspects as the shield generator bunker on Endor, and the inside was set up in a hub and spoke formation much like my mind’s eye vision of the Deathstar layout.  Outside there were plenty of paved sidewalks and ramps that made for the perfect BMX obstacle course with plenty of curbs to jump and small sets of stairs to descend.  These lead to the back of the building which house a pretty sizable playground with two huge swing sets, a climbing net, a half-sized basketball court, a kickball field, three separate slides of various heights, a set of monkey bars, and three or four jungle gyms in the shapes of giant domes and rocket ships. On this particular Saturday I was alone on the playground.  It was still pretty hot even though it was fall, and there must not have been a cloud in the sky because the sun was blazing down making it hard to see because it was reflecting off of all the shiny metal slides.  

There was only one thing running through my mind that afternoon as I’d just come back from seeing the re-release of Return of the Jedi in the theater with my dad.   It was a particularly great experience as the theater had a bunch of employees dressed to the nines in very authentic-looking costumes.   There were a few skiff guards from the pit of Carkoon scene, where Jaba was sacrificing Luke, Han and Chewie to Sarlac, but the ones that really caught my eye were a couple of Biker Scouts in full armor.  Like a lot of kids, the speeder bike chase through the forest of Endor was the absolute peak of cinematic excitement in ’83-’84, and ever single time I saw it I’d get completely jazzed, barely able to contain myself from going nuts in the theatre. I couldn’t stop thinking about that chase sequence and one of my favorite things to do was to try and reenact it all over that playground.  I’d start off by running around the entire perimeter, imagining I was Luke and there were two scouts on my tail.  Fake yawning and growling, I’d try and mimic the noise of the speeder bikes as I zoomed around the jungle gyms and under the monkey bars making my way to the slides.  After careening down the slides a few times, burning my butt and the bottoms of my thighs on the white hot steel, I’d retire to the swing sets where I’d really try and get going at a decent clip, swinging higher and higher.  I’d do this until I got to a point where I was scaring myself, which meant that it was time for the big finale.  Remember the scene where Luke jumps off his bike sending it crashing into a tree, well that was the point I’d send myself flying off the swing, tumbling into the soft dirt under the set and trying to pop back up quickly to me feet so that I could extend my imaginary lightsaber to take care of the biker scouts bearing down on me.

There was some part of me that always wished there was a playground made up of equipment and vehicles from the star wars films, in particular ROTJ.  The idea of sitting on a speeder bike for real was intoxicating.  Though I wouldn’t change my childhood play experiences for anything in the world, I never realized that at the time, that dream was a reality…

I found this ad the other day in an October issue of Woman’s Day magazine from 1984.   At first I thought it was just a cool looking branded play fort, but after tearing it out and while preparing to scan it I noticed the single coolest swing set accessory in the history of mankind, a child-sized speeder bike swing!  How freaking cool is that!  I think my brain would have imploded had I known of existence of this Gym-Dandy Scout Walker Command Tower with Speeder Bike Ride as a kid. Heck, just typing the name of the play-set evokes Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB Gun spiel from A Christmas Story.  “…with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time…”

And seriously, just how neat is this ad?  With the 2nd Deathstar, the Millennium Falcon, an A-Wing fighter, and a Tie-Interceptor floating in the night sky, while a bunch of kids play on the set; their trusty golden retriever at standing watch like a Chewbacca or Chief Chirpa.  Just too awesome.  The only thing that’s a little weird about this play-set is that it’s mimicking Imperial equipment, which seems a bit weird.

The one thing I can imagine trumping the coolness factor of this set is the idea of a BMX bike with the shell of a speeder bike wrapped around the frame.  I wonder if those existed…?

**UPDATE** Thanks to Paxton Holley from the aptly named Cavalcade of Awesome for pointing to this super cool speeder bike pedal cart!

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  • Shawn Robare

    Connie – I couldn’t say for sure, but I’d have to bet that this set would be worth a pretty penny these days, especially if it’s still in good non-rusty condition. If nothing else, the Spederbike swing attachment would probably sell for $200-300 alone.

  • Connie B.

    I actually have the full sized swingset version that has been stored in my storage unit for over almost 30 years. I had purchased it for my boys and we had it set up for less than a year. I have been trying to find out what it is worth today and how I would go about selling it to a collector. Can anyone answer these questions for me?

  • Paxton Holley

    Oh wow, that is cool. It seems familiar, but damn that ad is awesome. Probably the closest thing you had to a speeder bike bicycle was the ride-on pedal car speeder bike used as a mail-away prize.

  • Jephso

    That ad is epic. The other day I was thinking about how we didn\’t get to find out about a lot of amazing stuff when we were kids. Generally you\’d only hear about things if your friends told you or if you saw it in a TV/magazine advert. Growing up in the 80s and 90s you didn\’t have the internet to learn about all these crazy products. I remember only ever knowing about very few NES games, mostly the ones I and my friends owned. It\’s only fairly recently that I\’ve got to play a lot of amazing games I missed out on as a kid.

  • Aaron

    THAT is very cool. Thanks for pointing it out and thanks for sharing the memories.

  • Moviezzz

    I remember that playset!! I also saw that ad, and they had it set up at my toystore. I remember thinking it didn’t live up to the ad, as it wasn’t all that tall. It was something like $125 at the time, which I thought was a huge amount of money. I never got one.

  • Old School

    Wonderful post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it from start to finish. Thanks for sharing. Take care.

  • Chris K.

    Alas so true that we find out about these super cool toys so much later. Perhaps for the better since it would have drove me mad not have one… I think just the shape and look of the speeder bike was enough to get me excited…something about those stabilizer fins! so cool~

  • Ted

    Wow, did this bring back memories! I actually had the full sized swingset version of this as a kid. Which was even more badass than the one that you have pictured here. I’ve been digging through google images, but I can’t find any photos of it. Maybe the next time I visit my parents I’ll have to break out the old albums.

  • Scott

    I had that speeder bike riding toy. You could only get it from a contest at KMart. Not so much a contest I guess, you just filled out the form and stuck it in the box. My mom had filled it out for me when she was at KMart one day and I won. Unfortunately, I was a 6th grader at the time and was at the end of my riding toys day. More unfortunate is that my mom keeps nothing and sold it on a garage sale for I’m sure what was something like 50 cents or a dollar. :-( Such is my life.

  • Joseph

    I had this command tower as a kid. My dad set it up in the back yard for my 8th birthday in 1984. It got pretty heavy use for about 3 years, and then I found that I had just grown too darn big to fit comfortably in the tower, or to feel safe riding the speeder bike swing hanging underneath. Could the dog in that ad really be to scale with the tower?! To my 8 year old perception, it was about 100 feet tall. The speeder bike was definitely cool. You could get it going so fast that the front bar it hung from would actually hit the bottom of the command pod. There was indeed a sound effect panel inside the command pod, as well as a couple of small plastic seats molded right into it. You could sit on the little seat, flip open your control panel, and blast away at imaginary spacecraft. There were 4 sound effects, mostly different kind of laser blasts, but one was also supposed to sound like ships flying by. One was an epic explosion, like you would expect to hear blowing up the Death Start. It was not too difficult to imagine yourself as an admiral defending your planet. Press one button, and zoom some fighter ships are flying by. Press another, and zap, you’re shooting them down with torpedoes. One more, you’re firing the laser canon. Finally, the last button and you hear your laser pulse hit the Super Star Destroyer and blow it to smithereens.

    One thing the ad doesn’t mention is that there was an optional slide that could attach to the hole where that kid in the blue shirt is leaning out. That’s why there was a bar across the opening, so you couldn’t fall out. It wasn’t very effective! However, that was actually pretty awesome, because you could easily slide under the bar, wrap yourself around one of the tower legs, and slide down, fireman style. That was so much cooler than a slide would have been, and contributed to endless scenarios where you had to quickly get out down the escape pole when a fighter managed a direct hit. Later I hung a rope from the safety bar and would use it to haul supplies up to the top in an attached basket, or to swing down myself. I ate lunch up there every day for about 3 months the first summer I had it.

    I always imagined them as tie-fighters, despite the fact that it was clearly an imperial tower. As I remember, I had more fun sitting up in the tower than I did playing on the swing, but there was plenty of time spent imagining I was speeding through the Endor forest as well. Believe it or not, the tower was also my primary location for scratching out my Return of the Jedi Presto Magix!

    • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

      Awesome! I’ve been curious what it would be like to have played with this set. I think I would have liked to imagine that it was an AT-ST that I stole. Thanks for sharing your memories man!

  • Biscuiteer

    I saw one of these speeder bike gyms in front of a small local toy store at the time.

    • http://www.brandedinthe80s.com/ Shawn Robare

      Cool, never got a chance to see this in person…