Toy collectors are likely familiar with the name Gabriel Industries. The company, founded in 1913, and eventually purchased by CBS Toys in the 1980s, was famous for its ERECTOR sets and the wildly popular 1970’s Lone Ranger line. In addition to these indoor toys, Gabriel also produced Gym Dandy build-it-yourself outdoor playsets that almost mimicked the philosophy of the ERECTOR sets writ large.
Gabriel gained a license for Star Trek products in 1976. The mid 1970s was an interesting time for Star Trek. The Original Series and animated version had ended, yet there was momentum and promises of a return to either television or film for Captain Kirk and crew, all amidst the phenomena of conventions. Despite the absence of new adventures on the airwaves, reruns were proving a great success and Star Trek had entered a more mainstream consciousness (being mentioned on popular television shows Sanford & Son and Saturday Night Live to name two examples). All this awareness emboldened companies to try their hand at new Star Trek collectibles and toys, most famously MEGO Corporation, which produced a popular line of action figures and playsets.
However, it would be Gabriel Industries that produced what became arguably one of the rarest 1970s Trek items: the 1976 Gym Dandy outdoor “Starship Enterprise” play gym. Promoted as a “Fun-in-Motion Star Trek Springer for Action-Packed Fantasy Flights!,” the play gym required parental assembly and had many imaginative, if not screen accurate, features. Those lucky children who had one could climb aboard the steel frame and take either the captain’s seat (which was made “dura-cool” according to the packaging… nothing, we think, like Corinthian Leather?) or a position behind the chair. Then, bouncing could commence left to right, up and down, and side to side, all the while pretending the included Enterprise console was a real command center. While that cardboard display may not have been accurate to what Sulu or Scotty utilized (what exactly is “solar” speed?), the gym does feature all the kitsch goodness that makes 1970s toys so wonderful. Plus, the side panel UFP logos are quite good and a nice addition.
One of the reasons that the “Starship Enterprise” is so collectible is that once purchased, it was very unlikely that it would stay boxed both due to the cost and the purpose of the item. After it was built, the play gym was at the mercy of the elements and few survive today intact.
Pre-Star Trek: The Motion Picture collectibles and toys like the “Starship Enterprise” gym represent an important touchstone in Trek history because their popularity helped convince any doubters that Star Trek’s popularity was enduring, and indeed, growing. Children’s toys like the play gym especially represented the idea that a new and younger generation was being introduced to the icon characters and episodes. All of this helped convince “the powers that were” that new Trek movies were viable. Toys flying off the shelf and into our backyards helped the U.S.S. Enterprise fly again on screen.
Special Thanks to Itsatoystore (It’s A Toy Store) for use of these rare photographs. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Its-A-Toy-Store/346379589311 and http://stores.ebay.com/itsatoystore/