How the Pelican Press and school custodians saved Christmas

By Kim Pederson 
Special contributor,
Baby Boom Columnist

If you remember the TV program Tempo Toyland—and the Moorhead Tempo store—you have Baby Boomer credentials. The highlight of Tempo Toyland came when host Jack Sand spun a picture of Santa, which morphed into a live shot of the studio audience guest who would get a toy.

In the ’60s, Santa lived at a shopping mall in Moorhead.  

At least that’s what baby boomers who watched “Tempo Toyland” thought. The show ran on WDAY for two weeks in December, featuring the big man himself, a studio full of kids, and every toy imaginable from the Tempo store, which was somewhat similar to the K-Marts and discount stores of the era. Television was our window to the latest toys, but not everyone had a tv. 

That is when the Pelican Rapids Press saved Christmas. 

As Christmas approached, local stores stepped up their advertising game in The Press. Severson Drug, Hardware Hank, Ben Franklin, and Coast to Coast were among those who took out large ads to display their treasure chest of toys. The Press was the only newspaper in our house, and everything we needed to know about the world, and toys, came from it. 

Tinker Toys, Silly Putty, train sets, Lincoln Logs, hula hoops, cowboy hats and guns, Barbie, GI-Joe and his “21 movable parts”, Etch A Sketch, 3D View Master, Fun Flowers, Easy Bake ovens, and Chatty Cathy dolls filled the pages and danced in our heads.  

But more than a few toys should have been banned by Santa’s elves. 

The quaint and petite Little Lady Stove packed a 600-degree Fahrenheit heat source. (Because it’s Christmas, I’ll just let that product name go, although Big Boy Stove does have a certain ring to it.) Made in the ’50s and banned in the ’60s, it delivered a more powerful punch than most real stoves. 

Thingmaker molds featured everything from bugs to flowers and came in chemical-tasting flavors like raspberry, cherry, and root beer.

The ’60s brought Mattel’s Thingmaker, complete with noxious fumes and a three-hundred-degree hot plate. Tasty “Plastigoop” was poured into insect and flower metal molds and baked. The instructions said to let stuff cool off before removing and eating them. They were discontinued for obvious reasons, but not until 1978. 

The Christmas toy parade of horribles included Jarts, Clackers or Klik/Klaks, Johnny Seven cap pistol, rocket launcher and “armor piercing” bullets, and the Swing Wing (basically a hula hoop for your head). 

But you must give the “Worst Toy Ever” award to the radioactive 1950 Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. It made the “Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time” look like a baby toy. The kit came with its own Geiger counter and four glass jars of uranium-bearing ore samples. At $49.95, only 5,000 kits were sold before it was banned.

The Baby Boomer generation was measurably better off financially than our parents, but many kids didn’t make a list, much less check it twice. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, so we hung our Christmas stockings and made our wish lists of toys that could kill us. 

We used Dad’s work socks at our house to hold Santa’s loot. We didn’t have a fireplace but hanging our socks by the kitchen sink seemed perfectly logical. Santa could grab water for the reindeer, which made solid sense. 

In 1955 the aluminum Christmas tree hit the market for fancy folks. We always had a “real” Christmas tree. Dad would bring home a tree, and his gaggle of girls would hold court. He’d work to get it through the door and then spin it for us to consider. Too crooked. Too thin. Too tall. Too short. Back it would go until one was just right, and after a full-on, every-man-for-himself battle with the make-shift Christmas tree stand, we’d deck the halls.

When the Bubble lights are turned on, poisonous methylene chloride begins to boil, and the light in the base illuminates the bubbles. It probably does not poison you instantly, but it could make you pretty sick.

Mom and Dad hung the lights, which went about as well as the Christmas tree stand fiasco. I thought the bright red bulbs, the size of my hand, were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen—that is, until my eyes beheld the bubble light. Looking more like a Vegas prop, bubble lights had beautiful colors and moving light as the bubbles rose through the liquid. The highly fragile glass tubes of light were filled with a liquid chemical called methylene chloride. It was poisonous if inhaled, swallowed, or spilled on the skin. 

If the bubble lights didn’t kill us, the tinsel might—tinsel dates to the 1610s when real silver was used. Unfortunately, by the early ‘50s, the tree bling contained a large component of lead. Awareness of the risks of lead poisoning spelled the end for lead-based tinsel in the U.S. in 1972.

If the lead didn’t kill us, fighting over whether to string each tinsel piece gently over a branch or to throw it on in huge handfuls surely would. I come from a long line of tinsel stringers. I married a tinsel globber. Suffice it to say – we don’t use tinsel anymore. 

If you’re thinking about how we survived Christmas, recognize that Baby Boomers are a hardy bunch. That brings us to the annual Christmas program. 

Country school Christmas programs are memorialized with parents crowding into one-room schools to see children sing traditional carols and don glittered angel wings and bathrobes for the nativity scene. 

Mr. Potato Head came out in 1952, but you had to use a real potato. Due to complaints about rotting vegetables and new government safety regulations, Hasbro began including a plastic potato body with the toy set in 1964.

My memories of school Christmas programs are, well, not the same. 

Back in the day, the Christmas program was in the high school gym or auditorium. All grades would assemble in high school classrooms, each entering the gym one at a time. It was somewhere during the lining-up process that the vomiting started. 

It could have been nerves or any one of the multiple stomach flu bugs of the week. But the unmistakable sounds and smells would trigger a chain reaction among the angels and shepherds. It’s well known that if one kid sees another kid’s throw-up, that kid will then throw up. After losing a few wise men and an angel, someone would call for the school custodian. Those wonderful folks saved the day with mystery vomit powder and covered the barf so we couldn’t see it. That powder had its own pungent smell, and the two scents battled it out for superiority.

By the time we made it to the gym, we were down in numbers and paler than the white sheets of the angels. But “Hark the Herald” we did sing.  

It was spectacular! Every single skin-scalding, chemical-spewing, tree-fighting, vomit-cleaning minute of it. 

And thanks to The Press and the school custodian, all was merry and bright.

Kim Pederson

Special Contributor, Baby Boomer columnist

Editor’s note: Pelican Rapids High School graduate Kim Pederson’s regularly appearing column in the Pelican Rapids Press is a special feature, for the Baby Boom generation..

Pederson herself is a “Baby Boom” era product—Pelican Class of 1976.

Her reflections will appear in future editions of the Press.

Born and raised in Pelican Rapids, Kim continues to live in the area. Kim spent most of her professional life working at Otter Tail Power Company in Fergus Falls and was the manager of Market Planning at the time of her retirement.

She is a freelance writer and is currently working on a series of short children’s stories.

We encourage readers to connect with Kim at a special email address: