Sunday, January 17, 2010

Silly Cycles

When I was ten year's young, the trading card you see above was my Holy Grail.

My brother and I were obsessed with collecting illustrated trading cards. The only condition was they had to feature monsters or freaks.

'Silly Cycles', as they were known in Australia, was a set of 58 cards marrying cool modes of transportation and recreation (motorcycycles and hot rods) with equally cool monsters.

In the US, these were first released as 'Odd Rods' by the Donruss Company, and existed to sell sticks of bubble gum. The Donruss Company executives were convinced that there were many artists behind 'Odd Rods'/'Silly Cycles'. In fact, there was only one artist initially, and his name was B.K. Taylor. He'd sent his illustrations to Donruss and the first of a very successful bubble gum series was born.

The original series of cards was so successful, Donruss commissioned several more sets from Taylor's company, The Outer Limits Corporation (named after the legendary sci-fi TV series).

At the time, my brother and I were not privy to the backstory of 'Silly Cycles'; we just loved the cards. We'd get on our bikes and ride from Milk Bar to Milk Bar for miles, convinced that each Milk Bar sold different sets of 'Silly Cycles'. The truth was, each box contained several sets, but unless you purchased the entire box, you were not assured of complete numbers.

In Australia, the 'Milk Bar' is a disappearing institution. Most have now been replaced by the 7-11 convenience store culture, although a few still survive. They were always independently run, and were situated in both quiet suburban streets and busy street corners. They sold newspapers, lollies (candy), milk, some groceries, and bread. The local postie (mailman) would use them to store his mail during large deliveries, too.

Anyway, back to our mission. For months, we rode and rode on our quest for the elusive "Werewolf Under a Full Moon" card. Entire weekends were spent miles from home pushing our bikes up hills, speeding away from regional bullies, and bugging Milk Bar proprietors to dig deep for cards we didn't have.

Once we purchased the packets, we'd hurry outside and rip them open. We should have been saving the packets (which are now worth a fortune), but our impatience overrode all business sense. At this time, trading cards were never considered collectibles; you collected them because you liked the pictures. As each packet was ripped apart, four or five cards would be revealed. Dusty sticks of flat, powdery bubble gum would accompany the cards. In a word, the gum sucked. It was tasteless and brittle from being in a non-airless packet for too long. It tasted like shit and lost its sugary magic about two minutes after the first chew. After a while, we'd toss away the gum (with the wrappers).

There is no greater disappointment in the world of card collecting equal to to finding dozens of cards you already have combined with the knowledge that the card you want is still out there. We experienced this tragedy many times, and it made pushing those pedals homeward that much more exhausting. When we did finally make it home, our jackets stuffed with "swaps" (cards we'd trade for those we didn't have), the only medicine that cured our ills was hot food, dessert,and the latest episode of Dr. Who.

At a Milk Bar close to home, the Werewolf finally showed his face. We didn't know that we were ripping open the final packet to complete our set because each new packet represented a crapshoot. This was way before the internet, too, so we didn't even know what 'Silly Cycle' #1 looked like. We just knew we didn't have it.

When the unfamiliar face of a werewolf revealed itself, a surge of euphoria bolted through me. It was a beautiful card. A perfect card. The answer to our prayers. We'd ridden two hundred miles for this thing. And it was worth every rotation of our bike pedals.

The card above IS a scan of the card we found that day. Ironically, the other 57 cards (and their hundreds of miserable 'swaps') disappeared somewhere between deepest childhood and exiting the nest. Rumor has it my mother threw 'Silly Cycles' and a dozen other sets away in a fit of rage at our hoarding, boyish ways. It's a rumor only, but it seems plausible to me.

I've never allowed this card, 'Silly Cycle' #1, to ride away from me. I keep the Werewolf close.

Childhood's not too far away, either.


  1. Thank you, dear Phantom, for sharing such a nostalgic tale. Having been the victim of a spontaneous and vindictive mother with a penchant for callously discarding treasures, I find your Werewolf a triumphant symbol of the best things about childhood.

  2. Trix -- another discarder of treasures? I thought I was alone in my victimization.

    Yes, the Werewolf is a triumphant symbol. Feel free to borrow him, or send him to visit your mother (tail pipes blazing).

  3. I'm no stranger to those horrible little powdered boards of gum. They would crack like sheetrock except in the unlikely event that you found a stick that wasn't stale--and even then they were still quite unpleasant.

    I've never been a fan of baseball but about 20 years ago the novelty of Japanese baseball cards kinda swept me up. Each pack contained a single (!!) card and two squares of soft, non-lethal gum in exotic flavors. My favorite was banana... our inferior Western trading card gum could learn a thing or two.

  4. d -- banana gum? Much can be learned from that. "crack like sheetrock" says it all. and what was that powder? flour? I don't remember it being sweet.

  5. Have you ever had non-dairy creamer straight out of the jar? The powder had that same sort of "quasi-edible but not really" quality.

  6. What a perfectly excellent story, of epic proportions. Reading your grail tale reminds me of Joseph Campbell. He would love it too.

  7. d -- "dairy creamer" from the jar comes pretty close to the grossness of the bubble gum oblongs.


    mandingo -- thank you. To us, it was an epic journey. Campbell's required a little more fuel.