The late 1970s and early 1980s were a magical time to be a kid. The Atari 2600 was hitting stores, Star Wars action figures were every where and electronics were finding their way in to every imaginable item.
In 1979, Milton Bradley was really leading the charge with electronic gear with hand held games that were really all the same red dots moving around, to other toys such as Starbird which may be the first proto version of an accelerometer being used in a toy. If Milton Bradley could find a way to cram electronics into something, it did, but there was one item they came out with at the close of the 1970s that was all about the electronics: Big Trak.
The six-wheeled tank was on just about every child’s Christmas list that year, and I remember being obsessed with the idea of getting one. I really couldn’t have cared less what else I would get under the tree, there just had to be a Big Trak. (I was eight at the time, so I’m sure I still cared what else was there) Sure enough I got one, and my father and uncle immediately commandeered it for what seemed to be a lifetime as they plotted out the entire house to make sure it made turns at the right time and would come back to where it began its journey.
As you can see in the commercial above – for the Great Britain version, by the way – you would enter commands on the number pad that would tell it how far to go, when to make turns and, most importantly, fire its “plasma blaster” at random objects. It was the be all, end all of electronic toys that year.
The thing is, it is most definitely one of the things I credit with igniting my love affair with all things gadgety and electronic. It was basic to say the least, but I always wanted to see just how far I could push it. Could I cut that corner turn in to the hallway by that much more the next time around? Could I get it to go through the kitchen next time and make it back to the living room in just 16 commands? I had to know just how much it could do, and I was determined to find out where exactly that would take me.
Big Trak became more than just a toy to me, it became a challenge as well. And that’s how I view most electronics today. I want to get every drop of use out of it I can, and I want to know its limits as soon as possible. And I learned all of that from a simple grey plastic toy that flashed a bulb to make me think it was firing its “plasma blaster.”
Things are much more complex now, but there are times I long for the simplicity of when a six-wheeled truck with a number pad on it could deliver an apple to me. There is actually a new version out from another company, and I’ve purchased one, but I’m actually afraid to open it and try it out as I’m sure it won’t live up to my memories.
Maybe I should treat myself this Christmas to finally biting the bullet and opening it … 33 years after the first one.