Lego my Loc Blocs!
Some of you may know these as "Brix Blox" if you bought them at sears back in the day. I always just knew tham as Loc Blocs though. Back in the 70s & 80s, American electronics company Entex imported these building blocks from Japan. They were primarily branded as Loc Blocs and sold in various department stores across the country, Sears however had a policy that everything they sell had to be a house brand, so they rebranded the blocks as "Brix Blox". Loc Blocs look pretty similar to Legos, but unlike MegaBlocks or Tyco's Super Blocks, Loc Blocs were not compatible with Legos. The studs on Loc Blocs are about twice as tall and marginally thicker than those of Legos. They were close enough that you could usually force them together, but you'd never get them apart again. Surprisingly the tall Loc Blocs blocks and the tall Lego blocks were the same height as each other (not counting the pegs), but while Lego blocks were three plates in height, the Loc Blocs ones were two of their plates in height, meaning that the Loc Blocs plates were about 1.5 times as tall (again, not counting pegs) as the Lego ones.
Loc Blocs had some pieces that Lego didn't, such as car door pieces (visible in the red truck pic below), 1/4 circle pieces (visible in the assorted pieces pic below) which were good for building chimneys & the like, and sloped pieces with no pegs on top (also visible in the pic below). However, they also lacked some pieces that Lego had. One key missing item was minifigs. Instead of minifigs, Loc Blocs gave you face stickers & hats/hair/etc which connected to 1x2 bricks. You would put two 1x2 bricks on top of each other (usually yellow ones), slap a face sticker and a hat/hair on it, and that would be your "person".
One thing Loc Blocs did that was completely different was the wheels. They didn't have a block with an axle attached like Lego did, instead they had entire car chasis with either 2 or 3 axles attached. This limited your options, but it did tend to result in more realistic looking vehicles (especially when combined with the car door pieces). If you look closely, you can see this chasis piece on the red truck pic below.
Speaking of stickers, Loc Blocs didn't have any painted pieces. In any situation where painted pieces could have been used, they instead used stickers. While stickers vs paint isn't that big a deal in & of itself, these stickers were always designed to span at least two blocks, permanently locking them together (or forcing you to remove the sticker in order to use them elsewhere).
Loc Blocs were available in large kits of generic blocks, in small kits of a single vehicle, or occaisionally in themed sets. Most of the themed sets seem to have been smurf related.
I had Loc Blocs long before I had ever even heard of Legos. In fact, when I first encountered Legos, I thought that they were the immitators, not having any idea that Legos had come out decades earlier.
When I was little, we would go to a neighboring town once every few months or so and go to the Hills store there. Every time we did, I would get a new Loc Blocs vehicle kit. I can still remember the location in the store where they were kept, 30 years later.
Hills was a department store, along the same lines as K-mart or Walmart. We didn't have any Walmarts or Targets around here back then (we didn't get a Walmart until the mid 90s or so, and didn't get a Target till around 2000). Hills was the biggest department store in the area, about the size of a typical Walmart or Target today, and much larger than any of the K-Marts. I have fond memories of that store, especially some of it's more unique (at least for the time) features. Besides the Loc Blocs sets, my main memories of the place are of their entry area. It had a small snack bar, a popcorn machine, and one of those Flintstones egg machines, where fred spins around a pole and says "Yabba dabba do! Dino loves you!" when you put the quarter in. (It makes one wonder though... Dino was always depicted as being male, yet the machines proudly proclaim that the eggs are "From Dino of course!".) I would always get an egg from the machine and a bag of popcorn while I was at Hills.
I had never seen a snack bar or popcorn machine in the entry area of any store like that before, nor had I since, up until about a decade ago.
Unfortunately, the entire hills chain of stores closed down at the turn of the century. They were bought out by a competing chain, Ames. That change was largely transparent, the two chains were very similar to begin with, and Ames kept most (all?) of the old Hills locations open, merely changing the signage. Unfortunately, Ames themselves went bankrupt and closed all their branches just a few short years later.
The Hills holiday commercials all had a catchy little jingle which is every bit as evocative to me as the "Toys-R-Us kid" ones, even though it's significantly shorter. Here's a sample one:
Loc Blocs seemed to vanish from store shelves overnight, suddenly I just couldn't find any more sets anywhere. This was really disappointing to me because I was so fond of them. For the longest time I thought they had completely stopped making them, but quite recently I decided to look around the web for information on them. While info is rather limited, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that these blocks are still being manufactured. Entex stopped marketing them here in the states, but the Kawada company still makes them in Japan. In fact, they seem to be quite popular over there, perhaps even more popular than Legos. They are currently being marketted under the name "Dia Blocks", and a miniature version of them under the name "Nano Blocks". The Nano ones seem to be quite popular with adults because their small size allows them to function as desktop toys, and the resulting constructions make for good desktop decorations.
What's even more surprising is that these blocks are still being marketted in the U.S. too, by Disney of all people. Disney has a product called "Build-It", where you can build Disney themed dioramas from interlocking bricks. While that in itself is nothing new, whats very strange is that they chose not to go with Lego nor any other Lego compatible product. Instead, they decided to go with these blocks which haven't been seen in the states since the mid-1980s.
While many toys & brands from my childhood have gone the way of the dodo, it's refreshing to know that at least some of these seemingly vanished items are still being produced somewhere. I might just look into importing some of these Nano Blocks from Japan, or maybe getting some off Ebay.