Vintage Tonka Trucks

Let’s clear the air about my use of the word “vintage” before we begin.  I am not curating a collection of retro toys, I’m not a compulsive hoarder with a sweat-slicked forehead making sure all my old toys are in their ORIGINAL PACKAGING and aligned on the shelf just so.  I’m talking about toys that are beyond old and worn-out, they have made it through a generation and are starting a new life.

This Christmas my son received my and my brother’s old Tonka trucks from the mid-1970s.  My stepfather cleaned and repainted them, ready for a new lifetime of hard work and love.  Number Two immediately took to the dump truck, not caring that it was vintage or retro or classic or old school.  He likes that they’re heavy and durable and brightly-colored and the tipper works on both the truck and the trailer.  For my part I’m amazed these trucks are entering their fourth decade and are in better shape than most plastic toys we’ve bought in the last year.  What’s so great about old Tonka trucks?  Steel, and lots of it.  I imagine this truck was made by men with moustaches, girly tattoos on their biceps, and stumps of cigars in their teeth, showers of orange sparks twinkling in the background as they worked rivet guns, sledge hammers, and tongs to craft these sturdy toys.  If this truck fell from a distance of a few feet it would probably sever a limb – perfect for toddlers!  But this also means it can be ridden on, can carry loads exceeding a metric ton, and will be ready for my son’s children in another forty years.  Here’s the truck getting its rechristening in the dirt on the day after Christmas:

Tonka truck 3


That cannonball-sized boulder would be no problem for the heavy gauge steel bed of the truck while it would splinter and crush today’s plastic trucks.  I’ve no doubt my brother and I used this truck as a gravel hauler, lawn regrader, and bobsled.  And don’t think trucks are just for boys, though the use might be a bit tailored for the fairer sex.  See how Child Harbat pressed the truck into service as a carriage to take pony-tailed bobbleheads to the North Pole:

Tonka truck CH



See how effortlessly the Tonka truck switches from mining to transportation?  Never mind the distressing amount of pink and purple, see how this truck is appealing to boys and girls?  There’s something satisfying about the heavy clunk as you pull down the handle and the steel bed tips skyward, whether it’s dispensing miniature dolls or iron ore.  The wheels clank, the axles articulate, and the bumper plows through lesser toys like a icebreaker through winter floes.  Our Tonka collection includes the dump truck and trailer shown above, a forklift, and a massive front-end loader with a tipping bucket, all dating from an era when computers were room sized and ate punch cards, men smelled of cigarette smoke and polyester and people danced in one-piece suits on floors with illuminated squares.  With one of these trucks and a hard hat I think Number Two could build a road up to the Yukon in a fortnight.  But for now we’ll focus on the dirt pile in the front yard.  Thanks, Tonka.

Tonka truck 2

Writer, architect, father, husband.

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3 comments on “Vintage Tonka Trucks
  1. Babs says:

    How wonderful to see those old workhorses ( much like ourselves-ha-ha) so appreciated and well-used by two generations and maybe even three.

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