A Young Boy’s Toys: The Rex Mays Toy Racer and the Story Behind It

In one’s late years, as time and life continue to move inexorably forward, a curious thing happens – at least to me. Certain objects and images we recall from our youth surface from a long-dormant state to beguile our memory and to re-kindle a new-born enthusiasm: a recollection of our youth and the things that mattered most to us in childhood.

Two of my favorite play-things early in life were my American Flyer electric train and a much less spectacular, nonetheless coveted, plastic wind-up Indy-style race car. Through the many decades since childhood, and for some obscure reasons, the recollection of that little motorized race car as one of my favorite toys stubbornly remained with me. I believe the jaunty little toy racer came to me around the time that my family moved from Chicago to California in early 1948. Special toys for my sister and I were few and far between in the lean postwar years, and this toy car was highly prized. I recall that my racer was made of light-blue plastic with an ivory-colored “underbelly,” and it had substantial, real rubber tires mounted on aluminum wheels. The car just looked “neat,” and it ran well: the wind-up motor could get it up to a pretty good speed on any extended smooth surface. My little race car disappeared many decades ago, and I never thought it likely that I would ever see one like it again.

Serendipity at the Pleasanton Antique Fair

Two years ago, at the annual Pleasanton, California, open-air antique fair, I found a suspiciously similar wind-up plastic race car with the exact same tires/wheels as my prized toy of over seventy years ago. Although the shape of its grey plastic body was somewhat different from the memories of mine, the wheels and tires registered exactly with my mental images. This car also differed in that it had a red plastic driver seated behind the steering wheel: mine did not. Despite not being exactly like mine, this “find” piqued my curiosity. The car came with its original, very nice box (rarely the case), and it was in good working condition, as well. I just knew this car had to be descended from my boyhood racer. For nostalgia’s sake, I made the dealer an offer: sixty dollars, and it was mine.

An imprint molded on the plastic bottom of the car reads:

MFG. BY PAGLIUSO MFG. CO.
GLENDALE 4. CALIF. USA

On the bottom of the box for the “Pagco Jet Racing Car,” the legend reads:

Manufactured by the makers of the original famous Rex Mays toy racer.
PAGLIUSO ENGINEERING COMPANY
113 West Harvard Street – Glendale 4, California, USA

 

 

Immediately, I deduced the possibility that my prized boyhood race car might have been “the original famous Rex Mays toy racer!” referred to on the box. And, by the way, who was Rex Mays, anyway?

My wife, Linda, and I were both intrigued by the fact that the Pagliuso Engineering Company was long ago located in Glendale, California – the city of her birth.

After acquiring an apparent “descendent” of my boyhood treasure at the Pleasanton Fair, I commenced to do what I do, and I began to Google the internet for information. I quickly verified that the “Rex Mays toy racer” was made under the name “Rite Spot Plastic Prod.” by the same company at the same Glendale address as my recent purchase, the “Pagco Jet Racing Car.” I deduced that my recent purchase was likely manufactured ten to twenty years after the Mays toy racer was produced which could place the latter date somewhere in the late nineteen-forties.

The Final Proof!

A distributor’s advertisement cut from a vintage, contemporary magazine surfaced for sale on E-Bay for several dollars. The ad offered the Rex Mays Racer with “free-wheeling motor” and “rubber tires”…all for $2.50 postpaid! The small ad included a picture of the racer offered. One look, and I could see: that was my little car – exactly, in all respects! I purchased the original ad.

What does the experience described in this post mean to me? Adding substance to the remaining mental imagery of my long-gone racer via the miracle of Google and the internet is yet another instance of the good and the joy that technology can bring to our lives. To the rest of the world, my experience with this toy race car will appear trivial, yet it illustrates convincingly the power of the internet. For me, on a very personal level, the experience has enabled a mental (and physical) reunion with the times, the toys, and the enthusiasms of a young lad some seventy years ago. And, at my age, that proves to be symbolic and satisfying – the closing of a circular journey back to my distant past, a time-tunnel to my boyhood.

Two days ago, I placed an internet order for a Rex Mays toy racer, exactly like my old blue over ivory car except that this one is a rare sea-green color over ivory (pictured earlier). Instead of $2.50 postpaid, this one cost $75, shipping extra! The little car arrived yesterday in great condition. I was not disappointed.

My new car has the following legend embossed on the bottom:

MFD BY
RITE SPOT PLASTIC PROD
113 W. HARVARD
GLENDALE 4 CALIF.
MADE IN U.S.A.

“Rite Spot Plastic Prod” on this car was clearly affiliated with “Pagliuso Engineering” as marked on my earlier Pleasanton Fair purchase: the Glendale addresses are identical.

It so happens that surviving examples of this little car are available “out there” (who could have found them fifteen years ago?). Most of these toy race cars were “heavily enjoyed” by their youthful owners, so the significant challenge is to locate one in nice condition and good working order. Who knows, the remnants of my original, treasured little race car might still be out there, somewhere, on that vast sea of possibilities called “the internet.”

And Finally, Who Was Rex Mays?

Rex Mays was a very popular champion race car driver in the nineteen-thirties and forties with many important race victories. Although placing second twice at the Indianapolis Speedway 500, he never won there. In 1949, during a race at Del Mar, California, Mays lost control of his car and was killed. Press coverage of the event and the accident was widespread: a stop-action series of published photos in Life Magazine showed the grisly details of Mays’ ejection out of the car and onto the track where he was then run-over by another car coming along. Rex Mays, it seems, adamantly refused to wear a seat belt on the racetrack! It is not clear whether the introduction of the Rex Mays toy racer occurred before or after his fatal accident: most likely before, I imagine.

The Rest of the Story

In the course of my internet travels while unraveling the story of the Rex Mays toy racer, I came across this very applicable obituary on the founder of the Pagliuso Engineering Company in Glendale, California. Robert J. Pagliuso was evidently a very successful engineer/entrepreneur. In addition to his very popular motorized toy race cars (both gas-powered and wind-up), I learned that his photography tripods were considered the Rolls-Royce of the genre. It seems fitting that his story be a part of mine in this post!

Published in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 23, 2003:

Pagliuso, Robert J.
On April 14. 1913, Robert J. Pagliuso (Bud) was born to immigrant parents in Glendale, California. He was raised on 11,000 acres known as The Ross Ranch. Bud and his brother John attended Glendale High School where both were student body presidents. Bud attended USC and from there he studied several fields of advanced engineering. As a young entrepreneur, he founded the Pagliuso Engineering Company. Through the duration of WWII, he contracted with the U.S. Government and operated his facilities 24 hours a day. Additionally, he designed, patented and manufactured his Hollywood Tripod and motor driven toy racecars which were distributed throughout the world. Bud and John developed and owned The Glendale Plaza Shopping Center which remains in the family. Bud went on to develop other commercial real estate holdings in LA County and cattle and horse ranches in Kern County. He bred, raised and raced thoroughbred running horses.

One Last Comment

The stories I have related in this post epitomize, for me, the differences that exist between growing-up as a young boy in today’s world and coming of age in the environment of the nineteen-forties and fifties. I wrote this post because it strikes me as quaint that a little, unsophisticated plastic wind-up race car could have captured a young boy’s fancy as was the case with me. This post expresses my interest in the contrasts between then and now.

In today’s world, high-tech, lithium battery-powered robotic toys which flash, move, and talk while creating a virtual new reality are the play-things that capture young boys’ attention – not that there is anything wrong with that. There is no stopping technological progress: that is a given. With my electrical engineering background, I can appreciate what is available in today’s toy/hobby venues, but the bar is very high for modern toys.

The wind-up Rex Mays toy racer and simple toys like it, back in the day, captured – and held – the imagination and appreciation of us kids for a very long time. The culture of those times and the role of play-time “imagination” had much to do with the attraction and staying power of simpler toys. Will the same hold true for today’s toys, or is it already time to move on to the next, big thing? Could it be that less is more?

The Changing Face and Voice of Music: After 52 Years, Saying Goodbye to My McIntosh FM Tuner

The time has perhaps come to make a significant change in my life. This week, I put my beloved McIntosh MR-67 FM stereophonic tuner up for sale on E-bay.

IMG_2850

As with my vintage Apple II computer which I sold on E-Bay two months ago, parting with this piece of personal history will be difficult, but necessary at this stage of our lives as my wife and I attempt to simplify our existence…and create space in which to operate. I purchased my McIntosh tuner on December 17, 1963 almost exactly one year after completing my degree in electrical engineering at Stanford University and landing my first engineering position here, in Silicon Valley. I had moved back in with my parents in nearby San Mateo, California, while paying off student loans – which were modest compared to those of today.

In 1963, there was a tidal wave of general excitement over the technological improvements being made to audio equipment – all of which contributed immensely to the pleasure of listening to music. Premium FM stations were springing-up across the nation featuring popular music of the day with a fidelity which seduced the public. In 1963, the latest, greatest thing happening was the technology which brought stereophonic sound to these stations. That Hi-Fi audio excitement and the stereo trend led me to purchase my McIntosh FM stereo tuner.

Mcintosh-Mc30-Mc60-C104-C8-Brochure[1]

Iconic audio companies with names like Fisher, Harman Kardon, H.H. Scott, and Marantz moved to the fore-front of the public’s attention – much like the example of Apple, today. Most of these companies had their heyday for a number of years and eventually lost public visibility once the Hi-Fi / Stereo wave of public enthusiasm dissipated and computers became the next, great thing.

One audio company is a notably unique exception to this history. That company is McIntosh Laboratory, founded by Frank McIntosh in 1949 to design and sell quality audio gear.

Today, “Mac” equipment is still at the fore-front of the audio world and represents the extreme “high-end” of the genre. The 30 watt, monophonic power amplifier pictured in this early McIntosh ad sold for $143.50 – a lot in those days! It featured vacuum tube technology (no power transistors back in the fifties) and a McIntosh design innovation for the audio output transformers which drive the loudspeaker – an innovation which greatly improved the state-of-the-art.

McIntosh recently offered a gold-plated 50th anniversary version of their bread-and-butter, two-channel, vacuum tube stereo amplifier, the venerable MC 275 (twin 75 watt channels). The price tag: a whopping $6,500!

Anniv.Mac_CROP

Clearly, McIntosh is not your usual company in any sense of the term. The name has long enjoyed iconic status, not merely for its eye-catching products, but for its dedication to well-engineered, quality audio equipment. It was that successful blend of attributes that attracted young fellows like me to the brand in the early nineteen-sixties.

MR-67 WarrantyMcIntosh was the ONLY audio company that published – in technical detail, on their individual marketing flyers – industry-leading performance specifications for each piece of equipment along with the guarantee that the purchaser would receive a full cash refund should the equipment fail to meet those specs. Pictured, here, is the 3 year McIntosh “warranty” for my MR-67 FM tuner. In 52 years of ownership and at least 35 years of total use, one light bulb needed replacing, and one “weak” tube also needed replacing (in 1987). Yes, I am a first-hand believer in Mac quality and reliability. My MR-67 tuner still works great!

What about the situation, today? McIntosh represents the Rolls-Royce of audio equipment and is the granddaddy of the industry – one of the few survivors of that intoxicating period of Hi-Fi, vinyl LPs, turntables, amplifiers, tuners, FM stereo “multiplexing,” and so-on. McIntosh and other more affordable audio companies continue to cater to those for whom listening to music over IPod earbuds just doesn’t cut it.

My Latest Adventure in Listening: The iPhone / “UE Boom”

photoTechnology continues its relentless march, and, now, I frequently enjoy casual listening to my Amazon Prime playlists via laptop or iPhone through the compact Bluetooth wireless speaker called the “UE Boom.” My brother-in-law, Ken, brought his “Boom” to a recent family event, and that was my introduction to a new listening experience. During the outdoor festivities, I kept wondering where the enjoyable music was coming from – I saw no speakers anywhere. I finally asked Ken, “Where is that great sound coming from, out here, in the backyard?” He then showed me the small, wireless, cylinder that is the “Boom” sitting unobtrusively in the middle of the patio table. That was good enough for me: I promptly bought one.

The beauty of the scheme is that you have complete flexibility composing multiple playlists of favorite songs from various CD or streamed library files. With no single performer/group restrictions as imposed by a given CD album, the listening experience is truly a pleasure. More and more of my casual listening will be done this way; I may even check into an iPod, after all this time. Two “Boom” speakers are easily paired to provide full stereo playback via Bluetooth.

Back to the World of McIntosh, Once Again

There is no getting around the fact that serious music demands serious listening time and good equipment. On those occasions, I retreat to my “modern” McIntosh system with its superb B&W pair of speakers. I have two CDs whose recorded music far surpasses any others I own. The first is a Philips recording of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” as performed by the Kirov Orchestra – absolutely magnificent. The booming crescendo in the Pas-de-Deux can only be appreciated on a good sound system with fine bass capability. The other recording, a Telarc recording of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” also deserves the best possible audio system – a truly amazing, ethereal CD, although perhaps not to everyone’s taste.

Nutcracker & Firebird

IMG_2934_CROP

These discs deserve dedicated listening time in front of a fine audio system. I like to hear them from a 200 watts-per-channel McIntosh MC 202 amplifier feeding my B&W Nautilus speaker pair: Pure joy!

In popular music, audio technology, and listening modes, most everything has changed, but a few things have not. The McIntosh mystique in audio remains as strong as it ever was, although the affordability of its gear is now beyond most of us. The iconic, illuminated green/teal “McIntosh” logo behind the ubiquitous, proprietary black glass panel is alive and well. I am thankful that I bought my Mac system components before retirement – when I could (at least) barely afford them. There was one exception to that last statement, and that involves my first McIntosh purchase of $299 – the MR-67 FM tuner. When I brought it home to my parent’s house that December of 1963, I owned virtually nothing else – not even an audio amplifier with which to play the tuner! I recall my parents just standing there, shaking their heads, as the crazy son excitedly unboxed his beautiful Mac tuner that first evening: Much water has passed under the bridge since that time, and I hope I have been able to convey, in this post, the nature and excitement of those earlier, gentler times, and why saying goodbye to this particular possession will be difficult. Maybe nobody will match the auction’s starting bid, and it will not sell, after all!

Note: As always, I have no special connection with or financial interest in any product or company featured or “endorsed” in my blog posts!