Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Battery Operated High-Wheel Robot (Yoshiya / Japan / 1964 / 8.5 inches)

This is one of those toys that just has so much going for it. Not only does the High-Wheel robot look fantastic, but it's got the kind of simple, engaging action that demonstrates exactly why these toys are so much fun.

What first attracted me to the High-Wheel robot was its explosion of color. The translucent green face -- nearly neon -- and the bright, metallic-blue body scream for attention. I love the window on its chest, and those gears -- they're just so darn whimsical. Robots like the High-Wheel really straddle the line between toys and pop art.

Like I said, the action's pretty simple, but that's part of the charm. While walking forward, the toy's head and chest light up while the gears spin and make a kind of whirring, clacking noise. The light also illuminates the toy's actual gears, turning the internal mechanism into part of the show. It's a lot of play value for such a basic, straight-forward robot. It's also kind of meta, if you think about it.

The High-Wheel was also available in two wind up variations (I'll write more about them later). Both are black, and one features six gears while the other has four. The rule of thumb says that the more complicated version of a toy usually appears first, meaning that the battery operated High-Wheel probably came out before his simpler cousins. Adding to the evidence: The battery operated High-Wheel has six gears, and the six-gear version of the wind up was released in 1964, while the four-gear version came out in 1967. From a (de)evolutionary perspective, it makes more sense that the two six-gear toys are most closely related, and it's unlikely that Yoshiya produced the wind up version, then the battery operated version, and then the four-gear wind up.

That said, I've yet to see evidence for a hard and fast date, so if anyone has any catalogue sightings for the battery operated High-Wheel, let me know!

I was still new to the hobby when I fell for this toy. I was in Elk, Washington, visiting John Rigg's massive toy robot collection, dubbed The Robot Hut. I'd been sent to Seattle on assignment, and realized that I had time to make the small detour. It was also an opportunity to meet, for the first time, an online collecting friend named Donald Conner. All in all, a great adventure for a toy robot newbie like myself.

John's place is, for all intents and purposes, kind of in the middle of nowhere. And by nowhere, I mean that it's on a farm, surrounded by other farms, which are surrounded in turn by some of the most beautiful forests and mountains I've ever seen. It seems that nowhere is actually a pretty amazing kind of place, even for a city boy like myself. So before I even saw the robots, I was feeling pretty good.

There are no words to describe how I felt inside the Robot Hut itself. Thousands of toys, all meticulously displayed. Life size models of famous cinematic robots, and prop replicas from some of the best science fiction movies of all time. Pinball games. Robotic orchestras. A life-size "Robby Jeep" from the movie Forbidden Planet. My eyes were wide, my brain was frozen. It was great!

Despite all the rare and amazing robots, it was the weird little High-Wheel that really lodged itself in my brain. There are other toys I like more, but let's face it, I'm never going to own most of them. I knew the High-Wheel was a robot I could add it to my "Want List" with the anticipation of actually checking it off.

Fast forward a couple months. I'd become friends with a collector and dealer named Justin Pinchot (often mentioned in this blog). One day, he gave me a call and as we chatted, we came around to the question that always comes up: Are you looking for anything particular?

I told him about the High-Wheel, and also bitched a bit that I couldn't seem to find one in good shape. It's not a rare toy, but I just wasn't having any luck. You can imagine my surprise, then, when Justin suddenly says to me, "Oh yeah? I've got one of those for sale. I'll send you some pics."

Justin is the master of having whatever it is you're looking for. Seriously, it's downright uncanny.

Anyway, Justin sent me the pics and I was amazed at how clean the toy was. I immediately told him I'd take it, and since then, it's been a favorite part of my collection.

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