Monday, February 21, 2011

Making a Toy Bombsight

I know... a toy bombsight. Crazy huh?
Not real PC.
I must be some sort of a warmonger.
Perhaps a pawn of the military industrial complex.
Or maybe someone who likes making toys that are fun to play with and maybe have a little history behind them.

Okay, there is a lot of history to this toy for me and most of it is very personal. So bear with me for a paragraph or two and then I'll get to the toy.

The whole idea for this toy I owe, like so much else in my life, to my dad. My dad grew up during WW2 and I always loved listening to his stories about the toys he played with as well as the world he grew up in. A little boy with tin soldiers and balsa wood airplanes playing on the floor of his parent's living room listening to the radio is an image I really like having of him. His favorite radio shows were "Captain Midnight" and "Jack Armstrong, The All American Boy." He loved listening to the shows and he loved sending away for what are now referred to a "premiums." You know, the whole "Send in x boxtops and one thin dime for..." whistles, spy scopes, decoder rings, all that cool stuff. But without a doubt, the toy he recalled most fondly was his Jack Armstrong Bombsight.

Jack Armstrong ran on the radio for almost 20 years and in a way was part of my youth as well. There was an attempt to make a Jack Armstrong cartoon series during the 1960s. The producers had some test sequences animated but ran into difficulty securing the rights to the original name. Undaunted, they reworked the idea a bit and produced one of the most wicked cool cartoons of all time: the original Jonny Quest. (The end credit sequence of African warriors throwing spears at people in a hovercraft and against the side of a plane is actually some of the Jack Armstrong test footage. That's why it isn't in any Jonny Quest episode.)

Jack Armstrong was a bit of marketing phenomenon and the premiums from the show are highly sought after collectables. Reproductions of the Jack Armstrong famous WW2 airplane premiums are available. Original bombsights show up on auction sites. The prices are... well, what do you expect a guy who is so cheap he takes apart clementine boxes to reuse the wood to say?

Here is what the original looked like. It had three bombs and a set of paper targets.

(Image used with the permission of www.hakes.com a great source for popular culture collectables.)


Which brings us to my bombsight. About seven or eight years ago I was trying to come up with a Christmas gift for my dad. At the time I couldn't find out much about the toy on the internet although my dad had told me enough about the toy that I had a general idea on how it should work. Feeling confident from knocking out some toys from other people's plans, I decided to try my hand at making a bombsight of my own design.

I knew that you looked through a sight into a mirror that was angled so that you could see straight down. You then turned a flat disk on the bottom of the bombsight until a small bomb lined up with a hole on the disk and dropped free onto paper targets below. Here is the general idea I worked out:
For the eye piece, I somehow I drilled a 7/8" hole through a 1 1/4" dowel (a piece of old closet rod actually) without a drill press. I also think I did it without a 7/8" drill bit... but that is another story. I then glued it to a simple wooden box that I made out of scrap pine and poplar that had been given to me by a friend who is a carpenter. Inside the box is a 1 1/2" square craft store mirror angled at 45 degrees. When you look throught the dowel sight, the mirror turns you line of sight 90 degrees.

The bombs and paper below are reflected in the mirror.


The bombays are three 5/16" holes drilled into a solid block that fills the inside of the sight except for the areas used for sighting the toy. The holes do not go completely through to the top of the block in order to prevent the bombs from rattling around too much.  A 2" wood disk with a 5/16" hole drilled in it rotates around a 1/4" dowel through the center of the block. As that hole lines up with a bombay hole, the little bombs can then drop free.

Looking at the bottom of the sight, the bombay holes
are at 6, 9  and 12 o'clock.
A small wooden "nut" was glued in place to prevent
the disk from falling off but still allowing it to rotate freely.

The bombs are simply 1/4 dowels that I shaped to give a general bomb like appearance. I shaped them on a grinding wheel.


When I look at it now, I can see every mistake. What can I say, it was pre-drill press and pre-beltsander. In general, I wouldn't make something so rough now. However, no regrets. My dad was really happy with it and thought it was pretty cool. I saw him take it out a few times to show visitors and seeing him happy with it, made me happy.

This probably won't be found on the crafts pages of "Overly Sensitive Parenting Quarterly" but after my dad passed away it found its way to a shelf in my house. When I look at it I immediately think about him and his great childhood stories. The bombsight was my gift to him, memories of him are his gift to me. Thanks Dad.

Now, if only I had some paper U-Boats to sink...

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