[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Big Trak Keypad

May 22nd, 2011 by Benj Edwards

Milton-Bradley Big Trak Keypad - circa 1979Bloop bloop bleep bleep bloop bleep bloop

While cleaning out my garage the other day (as I do periodically to make room for new stuff), I came upon the family Big Trak, which my father bought for my brother and me at a flea market in the early 1980s.

In case you didn’t know, the Big Trak was an electronic toy tank that one could program to perform certain movements in a sequence. At its heart lay the famous Texas-Instruments TMS1000 microcontroller. While the user typed in commands on the keypad seen above, the Big Trak emitted an array of wonderful synthesized beeps and bloops that still give me warm and fuzzy feelings when I hear them today.

Like many of the flea market toys my brother and I received back then, our Big Trak arrived with a broken front axle and a missing battery door cover. My dad would purposely buy broken electronics for very cheap and fix them up for us. And so he did with the Big Trak. The gadget provided many hours of entertainment for us as it traversed our living room’s shag carpeting time and time again.

After about 10 years of rough play and 20 years of improper storage, my Big Trak was in pretty terrible shape when I came upon it recently. It was time to put the Big fella to rest, so I pulled out this keypad just before saying a final farewell to our old family friend.

[ From Milton-Bradley Big Trak keypad assembly, circa 1979 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite electronic (non video-game) toy of all time?

11 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Big Trak Keypad”

  1. dan Says:

    You can buy a new one from ThinkGeek: http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/rc/de2e/

  2. Donn Says:

    What a great question, and a tough one to answer, because it was all about the computer for me. You could maybe say some of my Kenner Star Wars ships, but the mechanically generated sounds were pretty terrible, and not the main or best feature of them.

    So I have to go with model rockets, which you would launch electronically. (It’s probably a stretch for this question.) I enjoyed building them as much as launching them–I liked building models in general, but rockets you could actually launch! I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to enjoy them.

    Strangely, it never occurred to me to combine computers and model rocketry, and create designs on the computer, or try to model the physics of the different engines, weights, and fin arrangements in a BASIC program. Hmm, projects for the future…

  3. idisjunction Says:

    I actually didn’t have too many electronic toys growing up (or if I did, they were rendered inert and bereft of power). I have a strange habit of collecting Buzz Lightyear action figures, since it was one of the few toys I had with batteries as a kid.

  4. technotreegrass Says:

    Easily LiteBrite. It was the best way to get creative without making a mess, and it might explain why I still love neon lights to this day.

  5. jepflast Says:

    That was a great toy. Too bad it decayed and had to be pitched.

  6. SirFatty Says:

    My RadioShack 150-in-One in 1980…

    When I was 17 I purchased a Pioneerr laserdisc player and a DBX sound processor (~1983). It was a huge chunk of my saved money, but it was fun stuff.

  7. The Doctor Says:

    Robotix. I used to have a huge crate of Robotix sets all mixed together, and the selling point for that particular construction set was that it came with a simple controller (just a few DPDT switches) and a number of servomotors. I used to stage Robotix deathmatches on the living room carpet with two or three… gladiators? creations? models?… fights to the death of the three inch high plastic action figure riding in an open cockpit or the batteries in one of the power packs.

    For a while they were back in production; I still kick myself for not buying a few sets to replace all the servos that wore out over the years.

  8. Zoyous Says:

    Doctor, I never played with Robotix but I do remember those toys. I went looking for more info after reading your post, and it looks like you can still order them online from the company that now owns the brand. Here’s a link: http://www.roboticsandthings.com/robotix/rbxindex.html

  9. Benj Edwards Says:

    Man, I loved Robotix. I think our Robotix set is still sitting in a tub somewhere in my parents’ house. Remember Construx and Capsela? Between all those and Lego, the 1980s seemed like the building toy decade.

  10. Moondog Says:

    My favorite toy was a Spinwelder. It was an electric motor encased in a grip with a trigger, and came with “welding” tips and rivets. It used friction to weld plastic pieces together. I only got one kit for it, and that was of a car. In retrospective I was a bit young for it, and lacked the patience to follow instructions and do a nice job of assembling the car. I did get my mother to buy more tips for it, and discovered I can weld or destroy other plastic items with it.

  11. Alexander Says:

    Capsela, Knex, Super Armatron, 60-in-One, LEGO Mindstorms… Hard to decide. So, Im not going to.

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