One mother stops a rival Walmart shopper from snatching a Tickle Me Elmo doll. Another holds a seasonal job long enough to get the Mighty Morphin Power Ranger her son must have. A father hoping for a few Cabbage Patch Kids ends up with dozens.
When we published our article about 2017’s hot toy, the Fingerling, we asked readers to tell us how far they, or their parents, had gone to snag a popular toy. Almost every story we heard was from a time before the internet opened up so many shopping options. Happily, none involved fights or unbearable crowds.
Here are a few tales of parental determination, ingenuity and luck that ended with happy children on Christmas morning. They have been condensed and edited for clarity.
TOY AMBULANCE In 1980, Kim Pittsley’s 4-year-old son put only one thing on his Christmas list: a real “amblance” (his word), which Pittsley said meant a toy with lights and a siren. “We didn’t have computers. We had paper catalogs. We had Kmart in town, but not a real toy store.”
Ms. Pittsley went to a couple of Toys “R” Us stores, both of them nearly two hours away from the family’s home, but neither one had battery-operated ambulances for sale. “In a last-ditch effort,” she said, “We drive 200 miles one way to Milwaukee. And in a small toy store, we found one.”
She added: “I really felt like Santa had a hand in it, because I really can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it since.”
She thinks the toy is stored somewhere in her family room. “I would bet you if I went into the truck box, I’d be able to find it.”
NINTENDO WII In 2007, Mary Haffey Rippert stood outside a Best Buy store at 4 a.m. with the goal of buying a Nintendo Wii for her three sons. When the store opened, the manager told the crowd he had none. She spotted an empty Wii box that was part of a display and persuaded the manager to give it to her.
“I wrapped an old laptop in a towel and slipped it into the Wii box to give it the proper heft,” she said. “Then I wrapped the box and put it under the tree.”
The family had planned to leave town after gifts were opened Christmas morning, so the boys wouldn’t have time to set up the gaming console. “By the time my boys got back into town,” she said, “the Wii would be back on the shelves and they would not be the wiser.”
CABBAGE PATCH KIDS In 1983, Cabbage Patch Kids were flying off shelves. Holly Powell really wanted one, but there weren’t any to be found. Her father worked in a store that stocked hardware, toys and other goods. That meant he could order the dolls from a supplier.
Because of demand, the store never got any Cabbage Patch Kids to sell. So her father started making extraordinary requests, Ms. Powell said. “He said, ‘Heck, let’s just put down 288 every week.’”
One day, a surprising shipment came: The store got “like 168 dolls.” All were sold within a few hours.
“My sister and I benefited by receiving a few of them for Christmas,” Ms. Powell said. “Still have mine, and still love those dolls even now. I picture my father and his ‘hot stock’ in our tiny town of 7,000. He must have been famous that Christmas.”
MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS In 1993, John Secondi wanted Tommy, the white Power Ranger, “one of the most anticipated toys of the season.”
Before Thanksgiving, his mother got a job at KB Toys. “She trained and worked many shifts through the holiday season, until the toy was released,” Mr. Secondi said. “As an employee, she was able to buy three.” He added: “Once she was able to get three of the action figures I wanted, for me and two of my friends, she quit.”
TICKLE ME ELMO Ruquiah Laville said she could not recall the exact year — she was very young — but she remembers wanting a Tickle Me Elmo doll so badly that she was “obsessed with it.”
One day at a Walmart store, Ms. Laville’s mother put one in their cart. A few minutes later, a woman approached the cart and tried to grab the doll.
“My mom was appalled and immediately began to tell the lady off,” Ms. Laville said. “The lady insisted that we give her the toy, since ‘it belonged to her.’ I was flabbergasted and on the verge of tears.”
The woman offered $100 for the toy, Ms. Laville said. “Done,” her mother said, taking the cash. She then wheeled the shopping cart, with Ms. Laville in it, back to the toy section, where one Tickle Me Elmo had been left in the wrong spot.
Like the $100, that doll is long gone now. “We cleaned out all my toys at one point,” Ms. Laville said, “and I probably donated it.”
BULLDOG TANK In 1958, Michael Hill’s parents did not need to fend off a rival shopper from taking the Bulldog Tank toy he wanted. Nor did they have a connection at a store.
“My 8-year-old heart was set on this military toy, which was heavily advertised on the cartoons that dominated Saturday morning TV,” Mr. Hill said. “My plastic soldiers would clearly benefit from its firepower and awesome ability to climb over any obstacle. But so many other boys had the same idea that, alas, the store shelves were bare.”
His parents discussed the possibility that Santa Claus would bring “another means of destruction” — a toy atomic cannon.
“I woke up on Christmas morning expecting to see that under the tree,” Mr. Hill said. “But there was the Bulldog Tank! As the story was later told to me, on Christmas Eve my parents — never long-range planners in these matters — had gone out to buy the atomic cannon and, lo and behold, the major Atlanta department store, Rich’s, had just gotten in a shipment of Bulldog Tanks. They were stacked on the shelves for late shoppers like my parents. Procrastination had paid off!”
Mr. Hill said the tank lived up to the hype, calling it one of the important toys of his childhood. As a teenager, he found it in a closet. The batteries had leaked and destroyed it.