1985 Toss ‘n Cross

Growing up, Sears was our Amazon. In a small town with few retail options, Sears was a big box store within a catalog. I would peruse the Wishbook and beg my mom to get some cool toys, and she would persuade me to pick out some clothes as well. She’d submit an order over the phone, and weeks later would get a call that her order was available for pickup from the local Sears depot.

Things would come in grey plastic bags with white labels full of coded letters and numbers. The best way for her to hide a gift she’d bought for me was to simply leave the bag closed. I couldn’t decode the labels or see through the grey plastic. The bags combined thick plastic with trapped air, making the enclosed items impossible to identify. So Sears was a great source for new toys, and a source for immense frustration since I would have bothered my mom for hours to open whatever had arrived.

In addition to the Wishbook, arriving before Christmas, Sears’ other signature catalogs were two behemoths, the Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Neither contained many toys. But Sears also provided addendum catalogs that contained some new items since the last big catalog, and sale prices on overstock items. Those catalogs were less dense, and although they usually didn’t include toys, I still scoured them from cover-to-cover in the off-chance they might. It was through my diligence that I first saw the GI Joe bridgelayer, shortly after Easter in 1985.

Note that I never called it the Toss ‘n Cross. The name was just too silly.

I didn’t get much toys outside Christmas, my birthday or Easter. So although I don’t remember how much browbeating was required to secure the bridgelayer, it must have been some.

Regardless, I remember knowing it was coming and waiting impatiently until it arrived. No agonizing over what was in that bag!

A 1985 vehicle, the bridgelayer was available early in the year, before the rest of the 85s. If memory serves me, there weren’t any other 1985 toys in that catalog, just leftover stock from 1984. And because I got it months before any of the other 1985 figures and vehicles, I always associate it with the 1984s. It was only after reading guide books, recently, that I started pegging it with the 85s. The fact that its driver, Tollbooth, has a head that only moves left to right, seems to validate my memory, since 1985 was the year the head molds were changed to balls to move more naturally.

At the time that I received the bridgelayer, I only had a few land-based Joe vehicles. The Mobat was the largest, and was the most frequent vehicle to cross the bridge. The bridgelayer was also utilized as a battle tank in my small force. Clearly it was a huge target if it had the bridge perched on top, but, once removed, it was a smaller, armoured vehicle in military green, and possessed two powerful cannons.

The bridgelayer’s indirect predecessor was the Wolverine, both in the way the vehicles moved and how the driver’s seats were incorporated. The tracks were solid, unmoving plastic pieces, but had wheels built into the bottom of the hull to simulate driving, the same as the Wolverine. The driver sat in a recess within the plastic shell, his head poking out the top, like the Wolverine. But, unlike the Wolverine, there was a second seat available for another figure to ride along.

The toy was solidly built, overall, with only a few removable pieces, and a single point of potential breakage, at the connection between the bridge and the layer.

The bridge itself wasn’t particularly big, but it was big enough to imagine using it to cross streams, rivers, gullies, blown bridges and other obstacles. In that way, it was a great play feature that made for hours of fun. Its value only increased as I added more land-based vehicles: the Snow Cat and Armadillo later in 1985 and the Mauler and Havoc in 1986.

I know Tollbooth is the source of some ridicule among Joe fans, but he was a solid enough figure and character for me. His design fit in well with the company he usually kept – Duke, Roadblock and Recondo – and he could be quickly armed with an accessory pack rifle when needed. The askew helmet and open shirt were a little flippant for the military, but this was the same military that was letting Roadblock wear a tank top. And an orange helmet didn’t make him as big a target as Blowtorch, in a full suit of red and yellow.

Today, I think of Tollbooth as a great stand-in driver for the APC on missions where the bridgelayer isn’t required. I’m sure that’s how I would have used him long ago, had I owned the APC. Instead, his main tasks for me were laying the bridge down when needed, using the cannons for suppressant fire, and being the designated mechanic whenever one of the Joe vehicles broke down. He was also an occasional crewmember on the Tactical Battle Platform, with his big hammer and general handiness providing some value. However, it doesn’t escape me now that in the role he would have looked more like an oil rig worker than a soldier.

I think I appreciate the bridgelayer more than most because I had such a great time playing with it, and because I always thought of Tollbooth as an important member of my Joe team. Hardly my favourite vehicle or my favourite figure, but good ones, nonetheless.

In my adult collection, I have two bridgelayers, one with Canadian decals, and one with US decals in a beat-up US box.

One day, I’m hoping to find a Canadian box in good condition. Or one in an unopened, Sears bag!

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