a. They were self-constructed, simple but yet highly creative.
Every part was made or assembled by hand, just like a Rolex or a Rolls Royce, except that I had to use my own hands. The toys were simple to make but yet highly creative, with much attention paid to little details.
b. They were very cheap to produce.
Not that I did not whine and pine for expensive toys (I was never that well-behaved as a kid) but my family was not well to do. Like most families at that time, we were living only at or near subsistence level. To aggravate the situation, I had 4 siblings and all of us were of school-going age. Both of my parents had to work just to keep us living from hand to mouth. Hence most kids never got anywhere with their whining and pining anyway so they made use of recycled and waste materials to make their own toys. The toys were extremely cheap to produce, costing next to nothing.
c. They were highly treasured.
The toys were highly treasured by their owners - I would carry them wherever I went. The toys provided many hours of endless entertainment and excitement for me.
d. They promoted social interaction.
We brought the toys to school to play with classmates and brought them back home after school to play with neighbourhood kids.
I did not have a name for the toy then. Now I am giving it the modern name 'Mech Sumo Robot' in keeping up with the times. Alright, I have kept you in suspense long enough. Here's how you make it:
Step 1 (Photo 1)
You will need the following materials. (If the photo bears any resemblance to anyone dead or alive, it's only coincidental.)
a. Wooden empty thread reel. It is crucial that the thread reel must be made of wood otherwise you cannot proceed. I know that it is extremely difficult to find wooden thread reels nowadays since nearly all of them are now made of plastic. However you must understand that this is a 40-year old antique toy. I managed to find one last wooden thread reel in my possession.
b. A satay stick. In the olden days, I used a joss stick end which was a waste item. (As my family practised ancestor worship, there were many joss stick ends left sticking in the urn.)
c. A triangular file. You can buy this item from any hardware shop.
d. A pen knife.
e. A large (3/4-inch diameter) candle.
f. One or two rubber bands.
g. One hair pin or stiff wire.
Step 2 (Photo 2)
This is the most tedious step. You will need to put in one or two hours of relatively hard work. (But who was afraid of hard work in the old days?) Get an adult to help you if you have a problem doing this properly. Using the triangular file, file notches all round the two ends of the thread reel as shown. Try to evenly space out the notches. Each notch should also be cut to about the same depth.
Step 3 (Photo 3)
Break the satay stick into 2 as shown. The shorter portion should be slightly shorter than the diameter of the thread reel end. For the longer portion, break and discard the sharp end.
Step 4 (Photo 4)
Using the pen knife (be very careful or ask an adult to help you), cut a half-inch section of the candle as shown. (The purpose of the candle is to slow down the unwinding motion of the rubber band.) Using the hair pin or stiff wire, make a small hole through the centre of the candle. Then thread a rubber band through the hole as shown in the photo.
Step 5 (Photo 5)
Put the longer stick through a loop of the rubber band which is sticking out from one side of the candle section as shown. Using the hair pin, thread the other loop of the rubber band through the centre of the reel. After the other loop of the rubber band is threaded through to the other end of the reel, secure the rubber band by putting the shorter stick through the loop of the rubber band.
(Photos 6, 7 and 8)
There you have it - the finished product. Wind it up and watch it go. If the shorter stick slips, stick some sticky tape over it. It the longer end of the stick slips, cut a v-groove into the candle so that the stick sits in the groove. If you have made the toy correctly, it should move slowly and it should be able to climb over small obstacles. You can even have a sumo robot duel if you make two of such toys - place them facing each other on a wooden ruler and see which one pushes the other one out of the ruler. View the video of the toy climbing over an obstacle here: