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Not a joke - Growing up in the '50s-'60s


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#1 rvec

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Posted 14 July 2020 - 06:16 PM

After reading the Older Than Dirt quiz, I began thinking about what times were like when I grew up. Several years ago, I wrote a family history. Before individuals in a given generation were discussed, I wrote about the times. Here is a copy of the section growing up in the 50s/60s. I hope this brings back some memories or perhaps your view of the times are quite different than mine

 

I can only speak from my own experiences and my observations about growing up in the 1950s and 1960s versus 2000.  When my brother and I were growing up, our lives revolved around our family.  Mom stayed at home and provided love and guidance while dad worked hard to make a living.  Dad was around on weekends and some evenings to spend time with us. 

 

We did everything as a family: vacations, leisure activities such as board games, cards and sports. John, Dad and I played golf, went fishing and boating.  Dad coached our little league teams and both mom and dad attended our games.  But it went much deeper than that.  We had the utmost respect for our parents and we knew that they loved us.  We always felt safe at home.  Back then, society was not nearly as mobile and as a result, children had much more exposure to an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc. 

 

To me, having an extended family close by was a real benefit.  Our grandparents gave us their most important resources: time and love.  Our many cousins were great friends and playmates.  We looked forward to their visits.  Many lived in Pleasantville where John and I grew up so we saw them often.  I cannot overemphasize the positive influence of my mom, dad and extended family on the development of our own value systems.  Today, many children are the product of two earner families or divorced parents who move often for promotions or job changes.  Children are more often influenced by television which has little relationship to reality and by advertising which creates an “I want it now whether I can afford it or not” attitude.         

 

Things were so much different then.  Compare something as basic as meals then versus now. The differences are striking.  Few fast food establishments existed in the 1950s and early 1960s.  For example the great McDonalds franchise, Burger King and Taco Bell, began about 1954.  Dunkin’ Donuts and Kentucky Fried Chicken began in 1955. Pizza Hut opened its doors in 1958.  I do not recall eating any fast food until I went to college in 1965.  Mom always prepared what she thought were healthy meals and the whole family sat down, ate dinner together and discussed school, work or current events.  I think this was pretty typical of the period.  Our family went out for dinner infrequently, usually to celebrate a special occasion.  The Sherman Park Inn and Lamonda’s were favorites. They were both mom and pop operations with nice atmospheres, tablecloths, flatware and attentive help.  It is interesting to note that the view of a balanced and healthy diet has changed over the years.  During the early 1950s my mom touted high protein meals including red meat and eggs as being healthy.  The first indications that diets high in animal fat are linked to coronary artery disease were presented by a University of Minnesota physiologist, Ancel Keys in 1952.       

 

Every generation has its own signature fad dress and fashion.  Our school clothes however were conservative.  Just to refresh my memory, I took a long look at my 1965 high school yearbook.  The boys wore dress pants, (mostly chinos in light colors, blue jeans were not allowed) dress shirts and often wore black loafers and white socks.  The girls wore skirts and blouses or dresses.  Slacks were not allowed.   School clothes were always neat and clean.  Any that developed holes or fraying were relegated to “play” cloths.  No child’s or young adult’s clothing exposed the midriff, cleavage or other “cracks”.  In terms of dress, the 1950s had few non-conformists especially in the conservative community where we grew up.  Our school clothes were dubbed “preppy” and these fashions carried over to our casual clothes.  Preppies were neat, tidy and well groomed.  However, there were those who were dubbed “greasers” or “hoods” and followed the standard black leather jacket and denim jeans look and raced around town on motorcycles.  They were considered outrageous. 

 

The first underachievers appeared during the 1950s and were called  beatniks.  The beatnik boys sported scruffy beards and wore baggy sweatshirts, worn pants and sneakers.  The beatnik girls wore long chunky sweaters and slim fitting pencil skirts or slacks with stirrups.  The stereotypical beatnik generally sat around in coffee shops and listened to music, spouted poetry and didn’t care much about school or the establishment (see images 3.3 for 1950s fashion).

 

The first type of music that comes to mind as I recall the 1950s is Rock ‘n Roll.  Popular artists of the day included Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holley.  In the early 1950s, Fender and Gibson produced the first commercially successful electric guitars which would become the hallmark of Rock ‘n Roll bands.  During this period, crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Perry Como were also very popular. Their sound was much more soothing than the strong beat of Rock ‘n Roll.  Until the arrival of “The Beatles” from England in the 1960s all popular music was homegrown (see images 3.3 at bottom of the page).

 

As a typical American, middle class family in the 1950s we enjoyed some of the “modern conveniences” of the day.  We did have one small screen black and white TV, a record player, a telephone, an electric range and refrigerator but no dish washer, trash compactor or garbage disposal.  We did have an automobile but only one until 1959.  In fact, mom didn’t get her driver’s license until she was nearly 40 years old in about 1952.  We finally became a two car family in 1959.  Generally, dad or mom drove us to school and we walked home (about 2-3 miles).  If the weather was bad, mom or dad would make the time to pick us up.

 

Electronic technology was in its infancy during the 1950s.  Printed circuits were not used commercially until the mid 1950s and integrated circuit technology was not developed until late in the 1950s.  Because of this, electric devices such as TVs and radios had wired circuits and vacuum tubes.  In addition, picture tube technology was quite primitive.  The typical picture tube was only about 8-10 inches wide.  All this made for a large package with a very small screen.  Generally, the TV was housed in a large piece of furniture, sometimes combined with a record player and radio.  This is how I remember our first TV (about 1952 – see images 3.21 in the middle of the page for one of our early TVs).  Did I mention that all shows were broadcast in black and white?  The widespread use of color TV technology would come much later.  In addition there were few stations to choose from.  Even in the New York City area we had only 5 or 6 channels to choose from.  In some rural markets there were as few as two or three.  Back then, TV was just not a big part or our lives.

 

American iron dominated the domestic market for automobiles during the 1950s and 1960s.  Imports were less than 1% of domestic car sales in 1950 as compared to about 33% in 2006.  Each American made brand had unique designs and styling queues.  Fins were all the rage in American cars produced in the late 1950s, the bigger the better (see images 3.4).  Imports were mostly limited to sports cars such as Triumph, Lotus, and MG.  These handled well, were inexpensive and achieved good gas mileage but were notoriously unreliable.  Of course there were high end sports cars like the Jaguar, Ferrari and Maserati but I can’t ever recall seeing one of these on the road.  By the end of the decade, the only import car that was sold in quantity was the economical VW beetle (see image 3.4).  The “Think Small” advertising campaign coupled with an affordable price of $1,000, and good gas mileage made it the most popular import.  During the decade, only a very small number of cars were imported from Japan.  At that time Japan was known for making junky toys.  Travel by auto was relatively slow.  The system of Interstate roads was not begun until 1956.

 

The 1950s began an era of consumerism initially in the housing sector.  People could afford single family dwellings and suburbia was born.  One of the first of these developments was Levittown built by William Levitt which provided modest, affordable housing to young families.  As the pace of technological advancements quickened there were just so many things to buy. So began the trend of more and more housewives working outside the home as the decade progressed.  Although gasoline credit cards had been in existence for many years, prior to 1950 universal “credit cards” were unheard of.  Gasoline credit cards were issued by oil companies as a way to promote their products and maintain brand loyalty.  They could only be used for fuel purchases at company stations (i.e. a Shell card could only be used at Shell stations).  In 1950, Diners Club issued the first universal card and revolving consumer credit was born.  American Express and Bank Americard (later called Visa) introduced their credit cards in 1958.  My parents were too conservative to have a universal credit card.  Their philosophy was that if you wanted something you worked until you had enough money to buy it.

 

The practice of medicine was rather primitive during the 1950s.  Although penicillin was discovered in the early 1940s and streptomycin was discovered in 1944, other wonder drugs were yet to come.  There were several significant advancements in medicine during the 1950s.  The alpha helical structure of DNA may be the most significant leading to genome mapping which in turn may lead to the development of “magic bullets” to eradicate disease.  Today we think of open heart surgery as commonplace, however, the first such surgery using a heart, lung machine was performed in 1953.  The dreaded disease of Polio which crippled and killed thousands was stopped in its tracks with the development of the Polio vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk in the 1950s.  I can remember getting my Polio shot at school around the year 1955.  Until the 1950s smoking was considered harmless.  In 1952, a study was released that linked smoking to lung cancer.  In 1957, an extensive study done by the American Cancer Society showed that heavy smoking shortens lifespan.  See images 3.4 near the bottom of the page for a typical cigarette advertisement of the day.  In 1951 a major study documents fluoride’s role in the prevention of dental cavities.  As a marketing tool, Proctor and Gamble added fluoride to Crest toothpaste (see image 3.4 near the bottom of the page).

 

My parents never drove us to soccer practice.  This was mostly because we never heard of soccer.  Little League baseball was popular (no T-Ball or Coach pitch, just regular baseball) and was about the only sport kids played outside of school.  Little League was for boys only.  There were no girl’s teams or leagues that I can recall.  Dad was busy but sometimes helped out the coach of our team.  Sometimes he’d drive us to practice and sometimes we would either ride our bikes or walk.

 

In those days kids played outside, riding their bikes, playing a pick up game of baseball, basketball or football. They would watch a little TV maybe “Leave it To Beaver” or “Mighty Mouse” in the evening and maybe talk on the phone after doing homework. Many worked part time to earn spending money mowing lawns (a good size lawn yielded about $6.00) caddying ($2.00 for 9 holes) or working at a local grocery store ($1.15 per hour).  Parents didn't worry about child molesters or thieves breaking into homes or drugs on every corner or STDs or AIDS.  Life was definitely simpler and cheaper. The movies cost 50 cents and a candy bar was a nickel.

 

In the 1950s and 60s there were no cell phones, CDs, Ipods, computers, Internet, emails, pagers, caller ID, floppy disks, DVDs, DVRs, DSL, HD,Digital Cameras, Xboxes, video cameras, Blockbuster videos, Self Serve Gas Stations, Starbucks, 16 screen cinemas, online ordering or drive through anything.  Technology has sure made life easier but I’m not sure better.

 

The 1950s and 1960s were not without problems or worries.  As a child and adolescent I was concerned about several issues.  This may sound silly but I was most concerned about disappointing my parents.  Their approval was important because we understood that they loved us and wanted us to live a better life than they had.  Because of this I stayed out of trouble and maintained good grades.  Don’t get me wrong. As a typical teenager I always pushed the “envelope” and made some bad choices but overall John and I were “good kids”. 

 

During this period, America was threatened by the spread of communism and a belligerent and aggressive U.S.S.R.  Both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. possessed enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world and there always seemed to be tension between the superpowers.  I recall having A-bomb drills at school (see images 3.3 for Civil Defense poster and fallout shelter).  We would hide under our desks and cover our heads with our arms.  I’m sure that would have saved us if a nuclear weapon landed on the building or anywhere within 150 miles.  Other concerns included Polio, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the assassination of a President (more on some of these issues later).


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#2 MattD

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Posted 14 July 2020 - 09:10 PM

Very nice Rich, that echoes what life was like for many of us and family was the rock.   Also I think we should be reminded of how important our neighborhood friends were.   In those days we all outside most of the summer and our time was spent with neighborhood  kids and back then there were lots of them.   

 

I'm 69 and my dad is gone, but I still worry about doing something he wouldn't like!!!


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#3 rvec

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 08:52 AM

And then there were slot cars. .  I was 12 years old in 1959.  That summer I looked into a hobby shop window to see a Scalextrix 1/32nd scale figure eight layout with some open wheel racers of the period.  I sprinted inside where they had a layout for customers to try out.  I was hooked!  I pestered my parents for a “slot car Christmas” and was not disappointed.  Under the tree was an  4 lane HO scale Model Motoring set.  Our large finished basement became a race venue frequented by our friends.  My brother and I spent hours configuring new layouts to challenge our skills.  Others brought their track sets over and we created huge race courses. Over the years I graduated to 1/32 and 1/24 scale cars. I built 4 tracks from scratch for home racing and raced and played locally. I love the hobby and have a track, Electron Raceway in my 2400 square foot shop


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#4 Dave Crevie

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 09:07 AM

How you remember the past depends on how you look at most things. Growing up in the 50's and 60's was great as far as I'm concerned. And not because we had a lot. We learned to create our own fun. We built push carts out of lumber we scrounged from housing construction sites. There was an empty lot across the street from my house where we played baseball, football, plus hockey in the winter. We mowed lawns and raked leaves for money to buy the things we wanted. And shoveled snow in the winter. I started work at a local hardware store as soon as I turned fifteen. Before that I helped a relative in his truck repair shop, where I learned to weld at twelve. I have heard people my age whine about how tough things were, but we never noticed any of it. America was in a boom time, and even if my family wasn't well-to-do, we had what we needed. Nowhere near as bad at it was during the depression.  


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#5 MSwiss

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 09:20 AM

Great story, Rich.

One minor thing.

Aurora never sold an 8 lane race set.

It wasn't possible, back then, to make anything larger than 6 lanes, where the track stayed next to each other.

You most likely received one of the below sets.

Screenshot_20200715-091319_Samsung Internet.jpg

Screenshot_20200715-091300_Samsung Internet.jpg

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Note: Send all USPS packages and mail to: 5858 Chase Ave., Downers Grove, IL 60516


#6 rvec

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 09:23 AM

Great story, Rich.

One minor thing.

Aurora never sold an 8 lane race set.

It wasn't possible, back then, to make anything larger than 6 lanes, where the track stayed next to each other.

You most likely received one of the below sets.

attachicon.gifScreenshot_20200715-091319_Samsung Internet.jpg

attachicon.gifScreenshot_20200715-091300_Samsung Internet.jpg

Oops Mike. My memory is not perfect. It was a four lane figure 8. I corrected it in the original post for accuracy


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#7 rvec

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 09:26 AM

Great story, Rich.

One minor thing.

Aurora never sold an 8 lane race set.

It wasn't possible, back then, to make anything larger than 6 lanes, where the track stayed next to each other.

You most likely received one of the below sets.

attachicon.gifScreenshot_20200715-091319_Samsung Internet.jpg

attachicon.gifScreenshot_20200715-091300_Samsung Internet.jpg

The set was the 1308. I remember it was an extended figure 8. My brother still has the track (and much more track that he has acquired) and has become a collector of HO cars. He runs them with his grandson.


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#8 boxerdog

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 10:06 AM

This is a great thread, at least for some of us. As far as I am concerned, the 50s were a great time to grow up, and California (at least my part of it) was a great place back then. The enthusiasm and optimism was contagious. The 60s were on track also, up until the assassinations and Vietnam anyway. Thanks, Rich and Dave. 


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#9 John Streisguth

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 11:15 AM

When I was growing up, we had a summer cottage in the NW part of NJ.  Nearby was this place:  https://hotdogjohnny.../store/history/

 

I have a brother and sister that are 13 and 17 years older than me, and during the 50's this place was the teen "hang out".  Still around today after all these years


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#10 rvec

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 12:04 PM

MIke

After looking closely at the photos, the set was not exactly the 1308. My controllers were rectangular with a steering wheel which was attached to a resistor


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#11 MSwiss

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 12:28 PM

Were yours T-Jets, or the earlier vibrators?

I seem to remember my older brother and I originally had a vibrator set with the steering wheel controllers.

A year or two later, we got a T-Jet set, that came with the thumb style, or as we later called them, Marina Tower controllers, after a housing development in Downtown Chicago.

Mike Swiss
 
Inventor of the Low CG guide flag 4/20/18
IRRA® Components Committee Chairman
Five-time USRA National Champion (two G7, one G27, two G7 Senior)
Two-time G7 World Champion (1988, 1990), eight G7 main appearances
Eight-time G7 King track single lap world record holder

17B West Ogden Ave., Westmont, IL 60559, (708) 203-8003, mikeswiss86@hotmail.com (also my PayPal address)

Note: Send all USPS packages and mail to: 5858 Chase Ave., Downers Grove, IL 60516


#12 rvec

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 01:24 PM

Were yours T-Jets, or the earlier vibrators?

I seem to remember my older brother and I originally had a vibrator set with the steering wheel controllers.

A year or two later, we got a T-Jet set, that came with the thumb style, or as we later called them, Marina Tower controllers, after a housing development in Downtown Chicago.

They were vibrators


Rich Vecchio


#13 tonyp

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 04:38 PM

My vibrator aurora set was $20.00 in Christmas $$. Steering wheel controllers. That was the start of the madness.


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#14 Jay Guard

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 06:29 PM

I got the Aurora #1304 set for Christmas of (I think) 1962 or was it 1963?  I'm pretty sure it was that set as it had the the T-Jet cars and the steering wheel controllers and I remember the Sterling Moss "connection".  After Christmas my Dad built me a raised 4'x8' platform in my bedroom that I put the track on.  I quickly added on additional track sections and was thrilled to be able to race whenever I wanted right in my bedroom.  A friend of mine (that had wealthy parents) had a HO setup in his attic that was absolutely huge, he even had every accessory that Aurora made.  The only problem was that trying to keep the power going to such a huge layout was sometimes problematic, nonetheless we spent countless hour running on his track too.

 

Then one day, a year or two later (1965?), while we were racing at my friends track a neighbor walked in with a Plano tackle box in hand and pulled out a Classic Manta Ray.  I just couldn't believe my eyes and was hooked right on the spot.  I hounded my Dad to take me to the local track in Maitland, FL (a suburb of Orlando) the next Saturday and as I recall he bought me a Classic Viper.  Although I still raced HO cars with my friends my main focus was 1/24th from that time on.

 

Even though I was only 12 or 13 I was one of the "fast kids" and could usually give a lot of the adults a run for their money, not the fastest at the shop but at least pretty competitive.  It use to upset my Dad that during the "big" Friday night race some of the men would actually blow cigar smoke my way while we were racing.  I started racing with the Dynamic chassis' but a year or two later got into making my own scratch built chassis' by trying to copy what I would see in the Model Car Racing Journal.  My Dad was a big modeler and always had me helping him so soldering and building things was no big deal for me even as a very young teen.  I would even build chassis' for others for a few bucks or maybe as a barter deal for a motor or some gears.  Great Times!!!

 

All that said I had pretty much the same 50's-60's "kid experiences" as Rich (and the others) described above.  I think it was a great time to be a kid.


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#15 rvec

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Posted 15 July 2020 - 06:51 PM

Great Story Jay.

 

Tony P. - As with you, the madness began. I still love slots after 61 years in the hobby.  There have been times in my life when slots were put aside for various reasons but I always have come back. Having my own track allows me to tinker anytime and race with friends. There are no commercial tracks in Oregon (that I know of), however, there are many private tracks running hard body 1/24 cars. Early in my retirement, I used to travel the state for all of the big private track races that were sanctioned by OSCAR (Oregon Slot Car Auto Racers), but for the past several years I have been content to play and build for my track and our sister track (STR) in Roseburg, Oregon


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