There are little blips of excitement in a person’s day which are a welcome relief to work, duty and boredom. One of my most consistent blips are the cranes.
It would be easy to make this a column about the cranes used to lift major loads onto trailers or help construct building as I love construction. This interest goes much deeper, into my youth-I want to talk about vending cranes.
There are three types of vending cranes that I know of; the cranes like you see at county fairs, the somewhat automated models that rarely dispense stuffed animals as rewards and the quarter machines that guarantee you are gumball or other piece of candy but are only based on this game of skill.
Okay, the automated cranes you see in the entry of department stores are not games of skill. Basically, all you get to do is position the grapple above the stuffed animal you’ve chosen, push a button and wait to see what happens. I play these cranes because they are the only available crane to play. You basically never win at these machines because the anemic grapples never supply enough pressure to retrieve the stuffed animal prize. The prizes are all packed so tightly together that it’s almost like they are holding on to one another to prevent egress from the machine.
Now, the old carnival cranes were real games of skill. I had little interest in the midway of the county fair except for the cranes. I mean, you got your own little station at which to play and as long as your quarters held out, you kept your site. Carnival cranes were also very mechanical and you could see some of the internal workings. It was very apparent to me that my actions had a direct effect on what happened inside the glass case housing the crane and all of those prizes.
The prizes sat on the bottom of the case and it was my task to grab one with the crane grapple and drop it into the little repository after which the carnival worker could retrieve it for me. The prizes ranged from junk to family heirlooms. I always wanted one of the break-open knives or a lighter which were pretty hard to retrieve whereas the spider ring was a piece of cake. Honestly, who either wants or needs a spider ring-at any age? Anyway, it was fun and if you took your time you could make your quarters last although I’m not sure this same patience ever created better results.
My wife laughs at me as I rarely pass a crane machine without playing it. I don’y carry much cash so sometimes I have to ask her for quarters. If I try a crane by myself, I usually share the adventure later with her in story.
I rarely win a stuff animal at the new cranes-it does happen occasionally, however. About eight years ago, we were at a Perkins restaurant, I had a few quarters in my pocket and put them in the machine. I had already resigned myself to failure as I positioned the crane grapple at what I judged to be an excellent location. I pushed the button and waited-years of investment in honing my skills were brought to bare on this one machine as the grapple dropped from the roof of the machine into the mass of stuff animals. The limp grapple arms slowly closed as they lifted skyward and I fully expected them to slip around the head of the little creature I had chosen. My cell phone had no camera back then so you will have to take my word for it, but it happened. The grapple caught on the head of a little purple seal and deposited into the repository so I could collect my prize, my pride and the admiration of my wife who witnessed the whole event-plus our cats got a new toy. I got a lot for that fifty cents.