I remember many details from when I was very young. This is about a Christmas present I got when I was 4 years old, in 1968. It was one of the coolest Christmas gifts I ever got. The Johnny Eagle Red River rifle.
This is an old ad for the gun. I never got the revolver to go with it, but the rifle was, by current standards, unimaginable. You'll notice all the times that "realistic" is used in this ad, and they weren't kidding. It was so realistic, you even had to load your own ammo before using.
The cartridges were made of a brass-colored plastic. The bullets were made of a lead-colored plastic. Inside each shell was a spring. The bullets had a "tail" that extended below the actual "bullet" part, so that the bullet had to be inserted into the shell, which compressed the spring. The bullet snapped into place on some little catch inside the shell.
The gun was loaded through the side port, just like an old Winchester. Working the lever would chamber a cartridge, just like a real gun. When you pulled the trigger, some kind of mechanism inside would release the catch on the cartridge and send the bullet flying out by spring power. Work the lever, the empty shell was ejected, and a new cartridge was chambered, just like the real thing.
Not real enough yet? There was also a compartment for a roll of paper caps, which cycled every time the action was worked, so that when fired, a cap would pop as the bullet flew out.
As you can see from the picture, it had real sights. Of course, the barrel wasn't actually rifled and I can't vouch for any pinpoint accuracy, but I remember bouncing bullets off a paper target that had been taped to the wall of my playroom. I don't think it was powerful enough to put an eye out, but I think would have left a nasty bruise. I was well-schooled even as a four-year-old, and I don't remember ever shooting it at a real person. Imaginary bad guys and paper targets were good enough for me.
Eventually the inside gadget wore out, but I still fired bullets of imagination for long afterward. When I think back on this, it seems almost incredible that such a toy could have existed.
Here is a website that has pictures of ads for this and other realistic toy guns from the same manufacturer: Deluxe Reading Toy Guns. Do a search on ebay, and you sometimes can still see the old toys showing up for sale.
When I was five, I got a large toy squirtgun that looked like a transparent orange submachine gun, and made "realistic machine gun sounds" when the trigger was pulled. At 6, I got a Fort Apache playset. At 7, I got a toy Kentucky rifle & pistol set, which meant I could quit using my dad's yardstick for a pretend muzzle-loader. So you can see what appealed to me back then.
I still have the Fort Apache, which is (somewhat miraculously) almost entirely intact, and which my own kids play with. I also still have the toy Kentucky rifle & pistol, which they also play with.
tnx to Xavier and his "cool Christmas toys" for the inspiration