Do you remember your first Stomper 4×4 toy?
If you don’t, or if you never stepped into the wonderful, simple, life-altering world of toy Stompers … well, I’m mighty sorry for you.
Because these little battery-powered vehicles sold by Schaper Toys were magical joy rides that had the power to change a kid’s world.
Here are just six ways they worked their wizardry on me, circa 1980, when I unwrapped my first 4×4 toy at Christmas.
I was always a nerdy kid and a mama’s boy.
And, while my dad and I got along fine and spent plenty of time playing, I knew I didn’t quite hit the manly-man ideals he probably had for me when I was born.
I mean, I liked my Tonka toys, but give me a Hardy Boys book or George Washington action figure, and you wouldn’t see me for hours.
And Dad didn’t really get my infatuation with Steve Austin — sure The Six Million Dollar Man was cool, but the main toy was a *doll*.
The Stomper 4x4s gave us something other toys didn’t … common ground.
I loved them because they were mechanical and had parts I could take off (the tires, at least), and they climbed over stuff … even my Steve Austin dolls.
And they had headlights, so I could play with them under the covers and use them to read my books.
And Dad approved of them … they were trucks, after all. Four-wheel drive, even.
Perfect toys for boys, in other words.
Why, they might even make me rough-and-tumble. Someday.
Many of the same dynamics in play with my dad were in play with my classmates.
Growing up in farming country, all my friends were country boys … mostly farm boys.
They mostly tolerated my bookish ways and doll collection (Steve, George, Stretch Armstrong, Pulsar), but they also didn’t usually want to sit down and play with me.
If I wanted to step onto the dodge ball court, they’d be happy to smear me, however.
But the Stompers?
Yeah, we could all get into those, and they instantly transformed indoor recess into a monster truck rally, complete with textbook mountains and Strawberry Shortcake speed bumps.
And the kid camaraderie that comes with honking off Teacher as a team was, of course, priceless.
You probably read this one between the lines above, but here it is explicitly — Stomper 4x4s helped me transition from little-boy toys to big-boy toys.
Before Stompers showed up on the scene in 1980, I had Tonkas (see above) and Hot Wheels and Matchboxes, and I loved to play with them, sometimes.
But those dudes never inspired dreams — I didn’t want to drive heavy equipment when I grew up. I knew even then I wasn’t talented enough for that, and I never will be.
And no one I knew drove cars like those Hot Wheels and Matchbox beauties. Did they exist in real life, anywhere?
The Stompers, though?
They were everywhere out there on the road in truck country. Having real, live moving 4x4s in my chubby little hands made me start thinking about what it might be like to drive a big truck.
And all the other things you could do when you drove one — pull stuff, push stuff, climb stuff, dig up stuff, cut stuff down, hunt, fish … anything!
So, slowly, my daydreams turned from pure literary adventures to a mixture of escape and thoughts about what lay ahead. Adulthood would bring new types of toys and games, and the Stompers got me thinking in that direction.
We had a Jeep CJ-5 when I was a kid, because my dad wanted a Jeep but we couldn’t afford a CJ-7.
If you’re not familiar with these archaic designations, think Wrangler and you’ll get the basic idea.
Thing about the CJ-5, though, is that it had a short wheelbase … or at least that’s what Dad said.
And that meant you had to be careful driving it or you could flip it pretty easily.
I just nodded and went on dressing up my paper dolls when Dad would talk this way, but I didn’t really understand what he was saying.
Until I got my Stompers, that is.
See, I was used to playing with my Hot Wheels Corvette and my Six Million Dollar Man Bionic Transport and Repair Station.
Both of those were long and didn’t flip end-over-end unless you set them up on one end. Their angle of repose was damn near 90 degrees.
Not the Stompers, though.
Drive those boogers over you typical speed bump and they’d tumble ass-over-teakettle like a Pomeranian with bad brakes at the top of staircase.
That’s a short wheelbase at work.
I get it now, Dad.
Playing in the Dark
Did you know that toy stompers had headlights? Like, working headlights?
Well, they did. Maybe not ALL of them … I’m not sure on that point. But I do remember for damn sure that at least some of them had headlights, and that opened up whole new worlds …
Nighttime expeditions through the closet …
Dark side of the moon romps under the bed (when I could fit) …
Reading under the covers by the orange-white of toy stomper paradise.
These babies lit my way into a whole new world, a nightlife I never knew existed, and helped me find my true calling as a night owl.
Stompers hit me dead in my sweet-spot as an eight-year-old …
They were the perfect combination of flash and little-boy make-believe and big-boy fun at just the right time.
Every gift and every toy that came afterwards had to live up to that standard, and few hit the mark as well as the simple little 4×4 toy did.
Atari nailed it a couple years later.
My first CD player later in the 1980s was solid.
Star Wars figures and ships still bring the goods.
Everything else pretty much fell short of the impact that toy Stomper 4x4s made four decades ago.
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