Saturday, June 9, 2012

R and L Camel Train Cereal Premiums

I've posted before about a big pile of R &L Company cereal premiums I found at a toy show a couple of years ago. Since then, I've added quite a few more R & L pieces to my collection. Here's one of my favorite sets.

In the late 1960s, an artist named Harry Hargreaves was asked to come up with an idea for a cereal premium set to be distributed through Kellogg's and manufactured by the R & L plastics company in Australia.  Hargreaves recalled the camel caravans he had seen while stationed in Egypt during WWII, long lines of laden camels walking in single file, commonly called "camel trains." Taking the phrase literally, Hargreaves crafted a beautifully designed set of tiny toys comprised of camel train cars with monkey passengers.

Made of a brittle plastic with delicate connector hooks, the toys are very fragile, and this fact, coupled with their very small size (the seated monkeys are a wee .5 inches tall, and the cars average 1.5 inches long) meant many were broken and lost over the past 40 years. The R &L Camel Trains are now some of the company's most sought premiums.



Each camel came separately in a box of cereal, and so did two accessory sets of the bed, canopy and some of the monkeys, which made collecting the whole series even more challenging. I can just imagine the frustration of children who got the sleeping car camel or first class camel, but never managed to find the bed or canopy to complete those cars. What a dastardly yet brilliant marketing campaign!

The engine is one of the most fanciful of the car designs:



Next is the guard van, atop which a monkey holding a blunderbuss watches over a treasure chest:


Behind this car comes the economy class camel, carrying a couple of monkey passengers seated in the open air:




It's no-frills service on the economy camel, but things are very different on the next car, the first class camel, complete with its canopy and top-hatted monkey rider:



And last but not least is the sleeper car camel, in which a tiny monkey rests in a bed borne on the back of a kneeling camel. A tiny bed pan (usually missing) hangs from the end of the bed.



Another camel was necessary to complete this set: the signal camel, along with a couple of flag waving monkeys. Without this set, your camel train would be sure to run into difficulties along its route. The ladder is detachable, making this another difficult set to find complete.



The tiny monkeys are worth a close-up of their own. The detail on such small toys, meant as mere cereal box giveaways, is quite remarkable. The flag monkey even has the stub of a cigar clenched in his teeth: 









Stay tooned: lots more R & L to come!


18 comments:

  1. Fascinating! I have to say that I don't remember these at all. Other R & L cereal premiums, yes - the Totem Poles, the Toolie Birds, Neptunes (despite the website you have a link to saying they were only distributed overseas - we got quite a lot from our cereal boxes!), Crater Critters, Wacky Walkers, and probably others. (Definitely others, but I don't know if they were made by R&L.) Perhaps we didn't eat the right kind of cereal for the Camel Trains!

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  2. Wow. Why don't they make things like these anymore. As a young adult I would be thrilled to find these in my cereal.

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  3. We did have King Neptune's Deep Sea Band in Australia, Rebecca as I remember fighting siblings for the mermaid. I don't remember the camel trains as a child either although I have a few now as an adult. They really were amazing and perhaps more so in a time when receiving toys was generally limited to birthdays and Christmas.
    They wouldn't get past safety standards now, Erin. :(

    Thank you for posting these - I love the way you have mixed the colours for even greater impact.

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  4. Yes, Christine, that's what I meant - the link that Tracey provides at the beginning of the post is to a website by a guy in Melbourne, and he's the one who says Neptunes were only released overseas. We still have ours - and you remember them too - so I'm not sure where he got that information from. Now I'm more curious about when and in which cereals the Camel Trains were available!

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  5. I think I can clear up the "overseas" distribution confusion: the site I linked to is from an American (like me) so when he says a set was "only available overseas" he means it wasn't distributed in the U.S. You lucky Australians got a LOT more R & L toys then we did here, although, as Christine mentions, you frequently had to fight little brothers and sisters for them.

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    1. I have to disagree. These most definitely were distributed in the US because as a small child I owned several. I distinctly remember the camel engine, the treasure camel, anopy, and monkey in bed. Sadly I only ever got these few pieces because I had a bad habit of wanting the toys but never actually eating the cereal. :)
      I would dearly love to have one of these sets. What a fond childhood memory.

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    2. Hi Phil,
      Yes, you are absolutely correct. At the time I first wrote this post, whatever source I had used for my background info had erroneously stated the camels were only available in Australia. After checking another source, we discovered that wasn't true, and while I mentioned it in a comment at the time (see below) I never got around to fixing the post itself for some reason. I fixed it just now, though. Thanks!

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    3. Plus I completely missed that Tracy beat me to it. :) Anyway, thanks for the correction, and thanks for the arcticle! I've no idea why this one cereal toy has stuck with me for over 40 years.

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    4. Hi Phil,
      Thanks for getting me to finally correct my article! :) It was long overdue.
      It's funny, isn't it, how the littlest toys, like cereal premiums and cracker jack prizes, really hold such special places in our memories...I hear it all the time from people, and I know it's true in my own case as well.
      Anyway, if you want to get your childhood pieces back, and maybe even complete the whole set, here's where you can get them:
      www.cratercritters.com. I've bought some pieces from there and all went well.
      And if you'd like a really fun read all about these and other R & L premiums, and one man's adventures in collecting them, look for the book "Searching for Kingly Critter: A Deliciously Different Tale of Obsession and Nostalgia," by Barry Divola.

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  6. Hi Rebecca!

    I looked up Camel Trains for you in my R & L book and it says they were distributed in two cereals in Australia, called Large Corn Flakes and OKs. In Japan, they were released in Fruit Pon and Rice Krispies, and in the U.S., Sugar Smacks (that last one was news to me: I didn't remember them as ever being here.) They came out in 1969, but I don't know how long they were being given away.

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  7. Thanks for clearing that up, Tracey¡ I obviously confused the location of R & L with where Mike Speth was from. And that's interesting to know which cereals the Camel Trains were in. We definitely ate cornflakes (not OKS, though, whatever they are) - but maybe we had small cornflakes, or large cornflakes when they included a different series!

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  8. I read your other R&L blog post and was reminded that we had different names for the Crater Critter series from the names that were used in the US. You probably knew this from your reference books, but just in case you didn't, I thought you might be interested. Here are ours listed on a cutting from the back of the pack. :)

    http://home.iprimus.com.au/gking/crater_critters.htm

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  9. Gwen RosewaterFriday, June 15, 2012

    I would have been gaga for those as a kid. Beautiful designs.

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  10. I'm impressed that this premium was designed in the 1960s. So charming, I thought they were from an earlier era.

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  11. I am a collector of small camels. I don't suppose you would consider selling these? kjniko@comcast.net

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  12. Sorry, no, but you can purchase some of them here:

    http://cratercr.ipower.com/page7.html

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  13. I have some of the Camel Train and some of the Circus Train. They are all pretty banged up from all the moving I've done over the years, but I've loved them so much.
    I would like to collect them now. They were so creative and had a Dr Suess feel to them. Thanks

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    1. You're right, they definitely have a Dr. Suess vibe going on!

      You can find them for sale at www.cratercritters.com.

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