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Look for the Elven Label!

By Mrs. JediCole
It’s getting close to that time of year when TV stations all over the USA open the big cardboard box filled with tapes & film-to-video transfers of what, to my generation, were contemporary Christmas Specials. These “timeless classics” mostly consist of painted-cell & stop-motion animated “cartoons”. They star the voices of now-obscure actors, many of whom are no longer with us.

Many of them take us on an enchanting trip to the North Pole to visit Santa’s workshop where we find a dedicated workforce of elves working round-the-clock shifts on the toy production line. Toward the end of every line, chances are, you would see a Dolly, a Teddy Bear, and a Horse on Wheels. The first two are nice enough, but the last product always puzzled me.

For Christmas, I was asking for a Malibu Barbie & a digital watch. I didn’t know anyone who owned, or desired to own, a Horse on Wheels. It looked tragically dull. I knew they were real. I had seen them in antique shops, pictured in art books & on department store ad posters. Where I never saw them was in the toy store; not even on the toy aisle at Mott’s or Ben Franklin. They were not in the Sears catalog. They were not in the toy section of Montgomery Wards between the tools & sporting goods. Why was something produced in such mass quantities so hard to find on the open market?

Perhaps they were reserved for the bad children on Santa’s List. Ever since the energy crisis, coal was far too valuable a commodity to waste in a bratty kid’s stocking. Besides, it would be a much better punishment to give them some crappy farm animal toy with no play value. It says, “I didn’t forget you. I just don’t like you.”

Still, why give these kids something so labor-intensive to produce? What about the blow-molded plastic animals from the drug store or pick-up-sticks (equally un-fun). It seemed like a waste of old-world craftsmanship. It was out-dated toy technology, long since surpassed by Hot Wheels and Milky the toy Cow that mooed and gave “milk” out of its little udder when you put a pellet into it and made it “drink” some water by pumping its tale.

The elves! They must have unionized!

The space-age revolutionized everything. Plastics, transistors for miniature electronics, calculators you could hold in your hand! In less than a generation Santa’s elfin staffed factory was defunct and its workforce lacked the technical skills to produce even the simplest of popular toys. Santa was forced to out-source with overseas mass-producers. The shop had to be re-tooled. And the workforce had to modernize.

The elves rallied! The younger ones could take correspondence courses or attend the Community College in Nome. But the older ones (born before the industrial revolution) and the Amish could not adapt so easily. Faced with the prospect of being replaced by a boatload of temps from Kelly Staffing they barricaded themselves in the workshop and approached Kris Kringle, esq. with a contract.

After months of negotiations they settled, just in time for the next pre-Christmas production run. The new contract satisfied the needs of the senior elves by continuing a limited line of “nostalgic” toys with an agreement to promote their market share in the media whenever possible. Horses on Wheels had been saved from extinction. The factory was up & running again.
Initially, the nostalgic toys were simply warehoused, with a few selling as props for holiday plays & photo shoots. Later, in 1986 when the price of lumber was rising, an amendment was added to allow previously constructed Horses to be disassembled in the off-season for later re-assembly during peak last minute production time (when wandering children & the international media are most likely to show up unannounced).

This new understanding of what once seemed obsolete has given me new insight into the meaning of Christmas, and more importantly, a desire to go out and purchase a Horse on Wheels. While I have yet to find a store that carries them, not to worry. If I don’t win one with my bid on eBay, there is always!

Some of the original toy designs from the elven research and design team included things like, coal on wheels, snake on wheels, and even the absurd wheel on wheels!

Further research has uncovered even more wheel-centric toys. From the Educational Branch of the Toy R&D Department of Santa's Workshop, are such oddities as books on wheels, the chemistry set on wheels, the Little Tyke Atomic Reactor Playset on wheels, and the somewhat horrific Suzie's First Vivesectionist's Kit on wheels.

It seems some of the elves were obsessed with putting wheels on every toy.

I actually got snake on wheels for Christmas one year! The same year I got the aptly named boat-shaped-boat!

What's the difference between horse on wheels and wheels on horse?

Horse on Wheels is the term for the toy explored and illustrated above.

Wheels on Horse is the antiquated term used for the transporting of wheels for other uses on the back of a pack horse. Through about the late 18th century it was most common to transport wheels on horses rather than in a wagon or other conveyence as it was considered bad luck for a wheel to be carried in a wheeled vehicle.

Ah, that makes sense.

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