Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bridges and Blocks, Part 3 - Playskool Teach-a-Tot Road System

Once again my dad roped me into giving a presentation for the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club (you can read about my other adventures with the CMACC here). At their monthly meetings, the rotating host is expected to come up with a theme. Members who have things that tie in with the theme bring them and present them, providing background information about the items.
This July the subject was building sets and roadways. The group is focused around the appreciation and collection of toy cars and car models, so the idea was to present building sets and roadways that were (or could have been) used with toy cars.


Some of the members brought some of the same sets they did last time (see: Kenner Sky Rail Project, Part 10). I however, chose to focus on a couple of vintage roadway sets. One very well-known, one quite obscure. Below are some of the set other members brought.



Playskool Teach-A-Tot Road System

For my part of the program, I brought two examples of roadway sets that would be used with toy cars. By far, the rarest was the Playskool Teach-A-Tot Road System. Developed in conjunction with the National Safety Council, I believe, the idea was to teach youngsters about traffic safety -- and traffic patterns -- with a highly realistic roadway set. To my knowledge, the set was only offered in 1964.



I was lucky enough to get one. Thanks, Santa!

The system was quite remarkable. The road sections linked together with dovetail joints, making them pretty secure. Double-sided dovetails were provided to ensure you could always join the pieces you wanted to together.

In addition to straight and curved sections, the system had inclines for bridges (pretty steep ones at that), as well as sharp curves so you could construct cloverleaf intersections. There were also pieces that converted a two-lane road into a divided highway, plus three- and four-way intersections.



But that wasn't all. The set also included traffic lights and various traffic signs that could be attached to the roadway. Overhead signs showing turnoffs and mileage markers were also included. You could also clutter up the landscape with billboards, and run a series of overhanging street lights along the road.


And there was more. The set came with over a dozen different vehicles that could be customized with stickers. For me, the real attraction were the buildings. Die-cut cardboard buildings came with the set you could assemble. The selection and variety of the buildings is a veritable snapshot of the era.


The set had a Howard Johnson's-style restaurant, and a log cabin gift shop. Several "modern" houses were included, a house converted into a market, truck depot, and a representative city block. There was a also a multi-story hospital, plus a state police headquarters building and a highway department building, both in mid-century modern style.


And best of all, I think, is that these structures sported hand-drawn features, done in an early 1960s modernist commercial art style. It gives the buildings a certain appeal and solidly ties them to their era.



I spent many hours building and playing with this set, although I can't say I learned a lot about traffic safety. I did develop an appreciation for DOT engineers, though. The intricacies of constructing a divided highway can be challenging -- even on a basement floor.





Next: Kenner's Girder and Panel

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