Over Christmas and New Year’s, some friends sat around our house sharing favorite memories over hot cider. I chimed in with the best toy I ever received for Christmas as a child. It was 1955; the post-war Eisenhower years were in full bloom. At my family’s home in Tacoma, our black-and-white, 16-inch Westinghouse television in its gigantic mahogany cabinet was sometimes on from the time test patterns showed up in the morning until the local stations signed off with the national anthem at night. That is, unless my parents abruptly turned it off and made my sister and I do homework.
Without doubt, my favorite program at that time ran on Seattle’s KING-TV at 10:30 Saturday mornings: “The Roy Rogers Show,” starring Roy, his wife Dale Evans (she was just his “girlfriend” on the show) and Pat Brady as a comic sidekick who worked as a cook in the hotel Dale ran in the mythical western town of Mineral City.
But my favorites were Trigger, Roy’s palomino horse; Bullet, his German shepherd known as “the Wonder Dog;” Dale’s horse Buttercup; and Nellibelle, Pat Brady’s rugged old jeep that had a mind of its own and often took off without Pat behind the wheel.
And, of course, the show’s theme song was “Happy Trails to You (Until We Meet Again),” a tune that never leaves your consciousness once it enters.
The show was beyond anachronistic. Bank robbers and cattle rustlers came to town even as 1950s Chevys and Fords pulled up for lunch at Dale’s restaurant. Airplanes flew over as stagecoaches rolled in; a blacksmith worked next to an auto mechanic. In other words, it was a 1950s kid’s dream place to live!
On Christmas Day 1955, imagine my thrill to unwrap a big rectangular box with my name on. It was a mini Roy Rogers Western Town set made by the Louis Marx toy company. It had plastic figures of Roy, Dale and Pat plus many of the townsfolk. It had a tiny stagecoach, a livery wagon and plastic fencing to make a corral. It also had midget versions of Trigger, Bullet, Buttercup and Nelliebelle.
My miniature town set looked just like Mineral City on TV, with its post office, barber shop, bank, Wells Fargo office and “music hall” (no liquor allowed!) right below Dale’s hotel, where Roy and Dale sang duets.
It was, however, a toy that would never be sold today, made of sheet metal with corners sharp enough to put out an eye or cut off a finger. In poking the buildings’ metal prongs into “street” (which looked like a cookie sheet), a small thumb could get badly pinched. The paint (I hope it didn’t contain lead) peeled right away, and the whole set frequently collapsed under my heavy use. Nonetheless its memory has stayed with me all these years.
Maybe that explains why, more than 60 years later, I enjoy living in historic, anachronistic Coupeville so much. Front Street shares a remarkable resemblance to Mineral City’s main street. Coupeville is a step out of time every bit as much as Roy’s town, flaunting its 112-year-old wharf and fiercely protecting all its 19th Century homes and buildings.
Meantime, Coupeville worries about too many autos in town, the noise of Navy jets overhead and all those big RVs rolling through taking the place of stagecoaches. No bank robbers or cattle rustlers, however — at least not recently.
Sadly, we don’t have Roy, Dale, Pat, Trigger, Bullet, Buttercup and Nelliebelle in Coupeville. But we certainly have our share of local and colorful characters. Strike up a conversation with a Coupevillean and you’ll understand what I mean. Next time I stroll down Front Street, I may start singing “Happy Trails to You,” to see how soon it transports me to Mineral City.
The other day, I found a Roy Rogers Western Town set for sale on eBay, almost complete and in good shape, for a starting bid of $395. I think mine cost my parents $3.95 in 1955. I’m not going to bid on it; my memory is worth so much more.