Wednesday, August 06, 2008


I was thirteen years old in 1987 when I started clipping out Transformers ads from Sunday newspapers in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. To this day I don't know why. You couldn't say it was for research purposes because I wasn't keeping track of what store they came from or what day they came out. Even after growing up, even after I stopped watching the Transformers cartoons, even after I stopped buying Transformers toys, and even after I stopped buying Transformer comics, collecting old toy robots newspaper ads has been the one thing I never stopped doing. I guess "toy robots ads collecting" best describes my hobby more than anything else. Like I'm a toy robots ads archaeologist. (Actually I prefer thinking of myself as the Indiana Jones of toy robots ads.) I don't know if Transformers was ever my hobby so much as clipping out their ads was, and all these years later I've never been able to cut it out.


I came full circle when I went back last June and hit up the newspaper archives of the El Paso main library as part of Vintage Space Toast Tour 2008. I looked at microfilm archives of the very newspapers I used to clip ads from 20 years ago. It's embarrassing to admit but I don't remember a lot of details about the Toy Robots Wars of the 1980s and I was hoping this trip would help me remember just how my childhood unfolded. When I sat in front of those El Paso microfilm machines reading newspapers from 1984 through 1987 it was like I was living it all again for a second time, except now I was paying attention. There were so many forgotten details about my childhood that popped up through those ads. So many questions I had would finally be getting answered. When exactly did Lionel Playworld and Toys R Us first open in El Paso? When exactly did those Transformers ads I used to clip from newspapers as a kid first get published? HOW MUCH ROBOTECHS COULD I BUY FOR TEN BUCKS?

Lionel Playworld 31 October 1985

I think I remember watching Jimmy Stewart on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when Stewart said he would divide his life into 15 year periods and then look back fondly on the big events in each period. Well the biggest event in my 30-45 year period so far has been the birth of my son. The biggest event from my 15-30 year period was getting married. And the biggest event from when I was born up until I was 15 was the grand opening of Lionel Playworld just a few blocks from my house on November 1st 1985. I think the only dedicated toystore in El Paso at the time was Toys By Roy in Basset Center mall and there was no Toys R Us yet so Playworld was a huge deal. I still remember that opening night. Playworld had a weird mix of celebrity appearances during their opening weekend, including their mascot Kaycee Kangaroo, Dargon and Spidrax from Coleco's Sectaurs action figure line, some soap opera actor named David Wallace and Bob Lily, the first player ever drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. And just in case all that star power wasn't enough, the Lorenzo Duras Mariachi band was there. (Unfortunately I cannot find the Wikipedia page for the Lorenzo Duras Mariachi band).

Toys R Us 29 October 1987

Playworld would be the only game in town for a full two years until El Paso got its first Toys R Us. By that time I was a die hard Playworld supporter and wasn't as excited or enthusiastic about Toys R Us opening up. In fact I don't even remember going to the TRU grand opening. I bore a bit of a grudge against that Toys R Us because as a kid I thought it was singlehandedly responsible for the financial ruin of the entire Lionel Corporation. Now 20 years later El Paso ain't no city for old toystores. Playworld is gone, Toys By Roy is gone, Circus World in Cielo Vista Mall is gone and even that first Toys R Us will probably get closed down eventually. I was very excited to get a picture with my son in front of El Paso's first Toys R Us as it still stands today for the beginning of this post. The neon signage may be different but otherwise it looks almost exactly as it did the night it first opened over 20 years ago. I never could figure out what those multicolored steel beams were for but I've never seen another TRU that has anything like them and even if this store closes those beams will be forever etched in my memories.


Okay so Playworld's grand opening sucked for celebrity guests but if you wanted a toystore grand opening featuring some real rock star superhero celebrity gods of childhood, Toys R Us' grand opening on Halloween 1987 would not let you down! They had a Cabbage Patch kid, Kool Aid Man, Teddy Ruxpin, He-Man and not only Geoffrey Giraffe the TRU mascot, but his giraffe wife and two giraffe kids! Compare that to Playworld's mascot Kaycee Kangaroo who only had a baby kangaroo that would pop out of her pouch. She was evidently a single mom as noted by the absence of a kangaroo dad. My wife speculates that Geoffrey giraffe may be Kaycee's baby daddy. She said TRU may have had more star power but they probably paid a lot less money for their celebrity guests, who were most likely kids who worked at the store or possibly illegal mexican immigrants dressed up in those costumes.


Wow I can't believe I've blown over 900 words already on what was supposed to be a post featuring highlights of the robot ads I found in El Paso. I haven't even gotten to the any robot ads yet! I will just have to do an El Paso centric VSTP update post next week or something. There is still much to be written about that perfect storm of robots and toystores that was my childhood. The El Paso visit was such a big deal to me that I don't know if I want to continue collecting old toy robot ads. Stopping with El Paso would be a nice way to bookend the Vintage Space Toaster Palace (and this 34 year long toy robots phase of my life). Any further microfilm looking seems almost anti-climactic after finally going back home to where it all began. What am I going to do now? You know, I don't really plan that far ahead.


Eddie said...

If I can remember correctly, Toys opened in late 1987. I have been told that Lionel opened in late 1982. I always believed that Lionel Playworld was a better toy store than Toys R Us.

Unknown said...

I don't think it was 82, I would have been bugging to go there all the time, 85 sounds about right. Besides Toys by Roy, there was also Happiness is Toys, if I remember right was where Elmer's is on Montana near the old Kmart.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I figured the ad for their grand opening would be pretty irrefutable evidence of the date Playworld opened. People's memories are funny, though. I was at a picnic with my cousin and she kept calling it Lionel's Playworld, which kind of drove me nuts. But people remember what they remember.


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