Columns

2010.05.26 Springing into danger

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

I always wanted a chunk of uranium when I was a kid. And better yet, I wanted a Geiger counter so I could find my own uranium and get rich.

This urge was probably an offshoot from my mineralogy kit. It was a wonderful thing to have spread across the dinner table.spring_shoes.jpg

The kit was housed in a metal container that unfolded into three panels. One third contained various rock samples. The other sections had acids for testing and tools for scratching and rubbing, plus a bunsen burner. All the stuff a kid needed to learn about rocks.

Or so I thought. I don’t think I ever could identify anything I found except limestone, but I didn’t need a mineralogy kit for that. Just a little vinegar would do. Vinegar was probably one of the acids in my kit.

When I drove to the track meet Saturday in Hillsdale, I listened to the radio show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and heard mention of the 10 Most Dangerous Toys.

Number two on the list of the all-time dangerous—just after Jarts lawn darts with 6,700 reported injuries and four deaths—came the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab.

This could have been a happy Christmas for me; it came with a Geiger counter and four uranium-bearing ore samples plus three other low-level radiation sources.

An electroscope, a spinthariscope, a Wilson cloud chamber—pretty elaborate for fifty bucks and a great way to foster a new generation of contaminated scientists. There was even a comic book called “Learn How Dagwood Split the Atom.”

It’s time on the toy shelf was quite brief, however, and not available by the time I had an interest. Ah, those simpler, fool-hardy days of the 1950s.

Number six on the list also comes from the 1950s—the Bat Masterson Derringer Belt Gun. I remember this item. I don’t think I owned one, but I’m sure there was one in the neighborhood. Bob Ackland? The Bryner boys? John Bancroft?

There was a little cap gun built into the belt buckle. All a kid had to do was puff out his stomach and a little gun would pop out and fire off a cap. Supposedly there was a problem with flesh burns, although I don’t recall any incidents.

You might remember these words: “Every boy wants a Remco toy...and so do girls.” The company made an impressive array of toys that boys wanted, including the 1961 item called the Johnny Reb Cannon. This one made the Most Dangerous list.

It fired hard, plastic cannonballs with a spring mechanism and has been described this way: “Any aspiring secessionist need only pull a lanyard.” I suppose there were some ophthalmological issues.

I’m surprised by the absence of Satellite Jumping Shoes. They’re certainly a candidate for the dangers list. I had a pair when we lived on East Street South, which means I must have been five years old. I suppose they came from Art Ellison’s Western Auto store.

These were metal red shoes mounted on enormous springs. They had leather straps and an adjustable length slider that was held in place with a thumbscrew.

Put ’em on, strap yourself in and take a leap. There was no way to know which direction the rebounding spring would take you. Into the wall, down the porch steps, always against the sidewalk. There was no control, at least not for a clumsy five-year-old.

I liked the things. I liked the idea of bouncing around on the moon. But try as I might, I could never master the shoes for more than a couple bounces before I shot off onto the grass, if I was lucky.

I suppose somewhere there were kids who could bounce right down the block with ease, but I’m guessing the other 99 percent required frequent bandaging.

On eBay, where everything is available, it’s possible to buy a new pair, unused, still in the original box. From my recollection, I think that might be the best place for the Satellite Rocket Shoes.

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