One of my favorite childhood toys is a Fisher-Price Ferris wheel, which must have been a Christmas present when I was five years old. Fisher-Price is based in East Aurora, New York, and was a source of local pride. I remember my parents and their friends talking about how thoughtfully made my Ferris wheel and other F-P toys were, and how engaging.
I must have taken good care of my Ferris wheel because it survived my childhood unbroken, with all the decals intact, and in perfect working order. I also held on to all four of the “Little People” who came with it; the dog even has his plastic ears (it seems that some children chewed or broke the ears off theirs).
It remained in near-perfect condition until 1987, when my dad moved from Hamburg, New York, to Bellwood, Pennsylvania. In my thoughtlessness and haste, I must have packed it carelessly, and the United States Postal Service took care of the rest. The box arrived in Chicago in a banged-up condition, and a large corner of the Ferris wheel base had broken off. Recently, I glued it back together, but it was a messy break and needs restoration to return it to a semblance of its former appearance. I could have cried. I probably did. Whenever anything like this happens, I hear my mother’s voice saying, “You don’t know how to take care of your things!”
I’ve since discovered that the wheel is broken next to one of the struts, which is an aesthetic issue more than a structural one. I don’t know how or when that happened.
The Ferris wheel has been in my closet since it was shipped in 1987; when I moved a few years ago, I was much more careful with it. In fact, I may have carried it to The Flamingo to prevent any accidents or losses. It still makes me a little sad every time I see it; it reminds me of all the lost and broken connections to my childhood.
I was reminded of it in August when I stayed at the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast, a 1960s chalet. The dining and living rooms are full of vintage decorations and toys. While I was admiring them, it suddenly occurred to me — I don’t know why it hadn’t before — to look for my Ferris wheel on ebay. Perhaps the proprietor suggested it to me. So, with an interest in seeing other Fisher-Price Ferris wheels and perhaps even in acquiring a second one in what ebayers terms “played with” condition, I created an ebay search.
To my surprise, I have been finding a number of these Ferris wheels on there. This makes sense; probably thousands of these toys were produced 40+ years ago, with many ending up in the attic or cellar, at estate sales, and in antique stores as children grew up and moved out.
What surprises me even more is the variation among them. Of the dozens I’ve looked at, only two to date have matched mine. For example, there’s what is known as the “mean kid” pushing a bar that appears to turn the wheel. Mine sports a blue shirt and yellow baseball cap turned fashionably sideways, but most of the “mean kids” wear different color combinations such as green and yellow or green and red.
My riders, three children and a black dog, are also different from most. Some Ferris wheels seem to have come with adults, even grandmothers complete with granny glasses and hair buns. A few sets, which seem to be more recent than my circa 1966 edition, include people of color. The sets vary in size, color, and design; I suppose these “Little People” were made to fit a variety of Fisher-Price toys.
Another difference is where the music movement was manufactured. Most seem to have come from Japan, while mine was made in Switzerland. Most likely mine is an early edition of this toy, which, along with other Fisher-Price toys, evolved.
This makes my carelessness even worse, as my combination (blue shirt, yellow cap, Swiss-made movement, the particular “Little People” set) seems to be the hardest to find.
Many of the Ferris wheels for sale on ebay are missing all or parts of the decals; mine are starting to come loose as the 40-year-old glue dries out. While some undoubtedly fell off on their own, I can imagine how tempting it was for four-, five-, and six-year-old children to peel off the stickers. Indeed, some of the wheels have no decals left, and some sellers do not seem to be aware that the wheel and ticket booth had them at one point.
I have no intention of selling my Ferris wheel as long as I can help it. They seem to sell for $20–$40, at which point I hear my dad’s voice saying, “For that piece of junk?!” The other day, one that was similar to mine, from a seller in Lancaster, New York, sold for nearly $70 — to a man in Switzerland who would have to pay more than $30 for shipping! For a moment I wondered if he’d designed the Swiss-made movement.
Or perhaps he, like me, is trying to recapture some of the wonder and sweetness of childhood, when a simple toy could bring joy that is still remembered.