In the ever-expanding universe of toys, November of 1979 witnessed a significant advancement in the world of domestic science fiction with the entrance of Big Trak, a toy that appealed to every aspect of childhood imagination. Added to the idea of a tank were lights, noise, and a relatively new feature in the technologically burgeoning toy industry – the ability to program.
The Milton Bradley Company had already proven their electronic salt with releases such as Simon and Microvision, but Big Trak still seemed ahead of its time. In addition to the toy’s tank-like appearance, a high wattage light bulb “Photon laser” completed the futuristic look. Nothing was cool about the price though – a whopping forty-three bucks – a cost that made Big Trak more science fiction than science fact in many homes. And like many toys, Big Trak also came with a twelve dollar must-have trailer hitch accessory. Commercials marketed this almost directly at parents, showing a father enjoy a cool drink courtesy of a Big Trak command sequence programmed by his happy, tech-savvy child. If only this were realistic, people would have more children, let alone a Big Trak.
Its limited practical uses aside, Big Trak’s blessing and its bane was its remote control. Prominently displayed on the back of the vehicle, the colorful numeric and directional keypad proved something of a challenge. The complicated system of sequential programming made hallway navigation more fiasco than fun. The buttons seemed simple enough: “Turn Left,” “Fire Photon,” “Retreat,” and other easily recognizable commands promised hours of remote controlled relaxation. Something as simple as a “Go Forward,” however, required a program more difficult than expected. Wall corners and furniture legs bore the proof of accurate calculations gone by the wayside.
It’s inherent imperfections weren’t enough to deter the youngsters wooed by its undeniable coolness factor, all of whom believed in an infallible ability to master Big Trak and bring that coolness to task. The scintillating appeal of programming a tank and then standing back while it did your bidding was akin to the “light, run, and watch” phenomena of the firecracker. It was science and mysticism in blissful, beautiful, photon-firing harmony. To an imagination capable of bringing stuffed animals to life, a stout plastic tank that did what it was told (or failed well-meaningly) was more than magic. It was providence.
Despite its forgivable shortcomings, one cannot help but look back on Big Trak and admit a certain amount of marvel at such ambition from a toy company. Though once only found in dusty attics and behind old clothes boxes, Big Trak truly lived in the pantheon of timelessly cool toys – and that meant it was ripe for a comeback. In 2010, a new herd of Big Traks rolled off the production floor, looking and performing just like their ancestors and delighting a new generation of tank programmers.
Did you ever have the pleasure of programming your own Big Trak, or was it one of those toys on the wish list that never got fulfilled. Either way, we hope you’ll share any and all memories with us via our comments section.