If you've got money invested in the market like I do, this might not seem like a good time for a fantastic story with a happy ending. Then again, it might be just the right time.

So, indulge me a minute
Imagine we could pay that guy Hiro from Heroes to bend time and space. We could whisk back to July 1995 and buy Dell (NASDAQ:DELL). Take along an old sword and $1,000 -- and 10 short years later, you can pop back with $39,000.

While you're at it, why not grab some AOL for $1.66, before the Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) hookup. That nets you another 10 grand. Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) turns $1,000 into $6,000.

You're probably wondering: If you could bend space and time, why invest only $1,000? Well, that's what you should be wondering. But you're really wondering whether I'm pulling these big numbers out of my hat. Well, I'm not. I'll even show you a table to prove it.

That's right, I said a table
In fact, I heard about all three of those companies (and others you're about to see) one sunny day in 1995. And every one of those stock stories made perfect sense to me. Remember, we're not talking 1989 here.

With the possible exception of AOL, every business we'll discuss today was fairly well proven by 1995. They were industry leaders ... they were run by entrepreneurial zealots ... they essentially printed cash ... and insiders loved the stock.

And they were only modestly huge at the time, which made them attractive to institutions, yet still left them room to run. Only one thing could have made them better, as you'll soon see. But first, it's time I revealed my source and showed you that table.

I won't keep you hanging
A gentleman named Tom Gardner turned me onto those stocks in 1995, plus the others in the table below. Tom's a founder of The Motley Fool. He's also bald and tells good stories. In 1995, he got it into his bald head to build a portfolio that we could hold for 10 years.

Here's how we fared:

Company

7/7/95

7/5/05

Return

Dell

$1.00

$39.85

3,885%

AOL

$1.66

$16.48

893%

Cisco

$3.07

$18.82

513%

Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ:JAVA)

$1.00

$3.64

129%

Gap (NYSE:GPS)

$5.11

$20.26

296%

Note: All prices adjusted for splits and dividends.

Actually, there were 10 stocks in all. After 10 years, we "simpletons" were up 667% (versus 147% for the S&P 500) -- in all, turning Tom's $10,000 portfolio into $77,000.

But you could have done better
Of course, you'd have to go further back in time, when these companies were smaller. If you'd bought Dell in 1991, for instance, you'd have ended up with four times as much. Same with Cisco. Clearly, great stocks get even greater when you get in early.

That's why, as great a company as it is, megacap software giant Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) didn't make Tim Hanson's list of the market's 10 best stocks. But up-and-coming fruit juice giant Hansen Natural (NASDAQ:HANS) did -- it was up 5,000% in 10 years.

That's also why Tom Gardner took the time to recruit and train a team of analysts to apply the method he honed back in 1995 to dig up well-managed, well-capitalized small companies for his Motley Fool Hidden Gems subscribers today.

Can they recapture the magic?
I don't know for certain. But I do know this: Our chances of catching another 5,000% gainer increase when we buy smaller companies that can weather this storm, especially when they are as beaten down as stocks are now. We just need to know a good story when we hear one. Or hear better stories. That's why I think you should meet the Hidden Gems team.

Especially now that you can sample the entire Hidden Gems small-cap newsletter service absolutely free. There's no pressure to join, and you can read over six full years of great stock stories for an entire month while you mull it over. That includes more than 100 small-cap value picks, including a number from the guy who told me about AOL in 1995 -- for free.

I know it's hard to imagine that there's money to be made on the long side of this market. But this too shall pass. Meanwhile, the market's 10 best stocks for the next 10 years are out there -- on sale. To learn more about accepting your special Hidden Gems free trial, click here.

This article was originally published on Dec. 5, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool writer Paul Elliott doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned. Dell is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Hansen Natural is a Rule Breakers choice. You can check out all the Hidden Gems picks right now with your free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.