By Norris Chambers

             It was a rather wild game, but it was played a lot during my school days in the late twenties. It was called "plugging" and it was played by the participants plugging at items in a ring that had been drawn on the ground. The plugging was done with a top. Just about every boy carried one or more tops in his pockets.

            A top is a cone shaped piece of wood about two inches in height and one and a half inches in width at the top. It tapers to a point at the bottom, and a metal pin with a rounded and smooth point protrudes from the tip of the cone. A piece of cord about three feet long is used to spin the top. The cord has a loop on one end and this is placed over an indentation at the top, brought down and looped over a protrusion at the point and then wound tightly in a series of turns until the body of the cone is covered to within one half or three quarters of an inch from the top. The other end of the cord is looped around the wrist and the top is held between the thumb and first and second finger. A fast jerk backwards unwinds the string and causes the top to spin at a high speed. It lands on the ground, or floor, and spins swiftly as it sits there. The tops with a sharp point tend to spin in the same spot while those with rounded points move around over the surface.

             In the old days the sharp pointed ones were called "pluggers" and the round pointed ones were referred to as "sally walkers".

            To enter the game, the contestant had to put something in the ring of some value, perhaps a marble, pencil, old knife, lead toy or even a coin, if one were lucky enough to have one.

            The players then took turns plugging their tops at some item in the ring. If the item were knocked out, it became the property of the one plugging. If a top stayed in the ring, it could not be retrieved until knocked out by another player. The player knocking a top out of the ring got two extra plugs. Some players had tops with very sharp points, and tried to disable a top when knocking it out. This gave the serious player two plugs and unless the unlucky opponent had a spare top, he was out of the game. It was common to see chips split off of a top by the spindle of the one being thrown. If a player plugged a top that was still spinning, he lost a turn. A top in the ring was not considered fair game until it had quit spinning because sometimes when the top quit and fell over it rolled out. To hit a spinning top was considered poor sportsmanship, but one lying helplessly in the ring was fair game.

            Most tops were bought. They were very inexpensive. You could sometimes find them for two for a nickel, but the better ones cost as much as fifteen cents.

             The top I described was a standard size, but there were also smaller and larger ones. Tops were very popular.

            Clifton and I entered the top business on a small scale. Actually, my father showed us how to make the first one. He had built a small lathe out of an old foot pedaled sewing machine. He removed the needle bar and fastened a large round piece of metal on the end of the shaft. The metal had two rows of holes around it. A couple of screws through these holes held a block of wood firmly to the plate. An adjustable metal bar extended a few inches in front of the wood and served as a tool holder. The tools were various small sharp chisels. When the wood was turned and a chisel held against it, the wood was cut and rounded. With sharp chisels and a lot of foot power, the piece of wood could be shaped into a top in a short time. A small ridge was left at the bottom of the piece to keep the string from running off the bottom. Grooves were cut in the sides to help hold the string tight and the indentation at the top was easily cut for the cord loop. The top was then cut out of the block and a sharpened nail or screw inserted in the bottom. We used hard, seasoned oak wood. There was plenty of it in the pasture and the right size chunks could easily be cut with an ax and saw. The last phase of the construction was the smoothing with fine sand paper and the application of a coat of varnish. The tops were heavy, and made excellent spinners and pluggers.

            Top pluggers liked our tops because they were heavy and tough. I never know of one that was damaged seriously in the ring.

            We made several of them and sold them for ten cents. After everyone bought one that could get the money there wasn't much demand for them and our top factory ceased to function. But the project brought us a lot of enjoyment and made us a little money.

            After being introduced to the little sewing machine lathe, we made several other gadgets. One item that we sold a few of was a finger ring made from hard oak. They became quite popular for awhile. We made water pistols and pistols that shot rubber bands. We turned out a few cups, dishes and vases. It was a lot of fun.

                Was making tops a lot of fun? We thought it was. Perhaps if you don't have anything else to do, you might consider going into the top manufacturing business. Could you sell them? Don't worry about that - that's a problem for the marketing department!