Admit it. Your first truck wasn’t a Mack; it was a Tonka. Go back to your childhood and remember. Did you find it Christmas morning under the tree with a bright red bow on it? Or, was it a birthday present? Or, did your snotty big brother finally get tired of his and hand it down to you after years of being patient. That’s right! You treated and loved that truck better than he ever did! And that Tonka gave you more than just hours of playtime; it gave you your career. Without Tonka, you might have never dreamed of becoming a truck driver, so, alas, we pay homage to the mighty “Tonka Tough.”
Tonka was the brainchild of Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse and Alvin F. Tesch in 1946, but it didn’t start out as Tonka, and they didn’t start out making toy trucks. Mound Metalcraft was the company’s original name – founded 1946 – and they began by manufacturing metal tie racks … boring! Tesch tinkered with some old toy concepts left by their building’s previous tenants, and dubbed the toys “Tanka,” which means “big” in Dakota Sioux tongue. The metal tie racks didn’t take off – big surprise – but the toy trucks did, and in 1955 the company changed its name from Mound Metalcraft to Tonka Toys Incorporated.
Many of the Tonka trucks were, and still are, construction themed. I had the crane and dump truck and hauled tons of cat litter from construction site to construction site. An extremely important haul and, no, the cat litter was not dirty. And, of course, I could not be without the fire trucks. I saved so many lives and put out so many fires with those trucks. I was a true hero, and that’s the point of Tonka. Tonka allows young boys’ – and girls’ – imaginations to run wild. You can be anything you want to be with a Tonka; it doesn’t matter as long as you have the right truck, and through the years there have been plenty to choose from.
Which ones did you have? The first ones were the Model 100 Steam Shovel and the Model 150 Crane & Clam. Here’s hoping you had one passed down to you because these babies can run as much as $500 on the market if they are mint condition. Tonka downsized to pick-ups and Jeeps in the 1950s and 1960s, and who can forget the Mighty Dump Truck – bright yellow, of course – in 1965. It does a great job hauling cat litter! These are just some of the classic Tonka trucks, and the company hasn’t slowed down even though Hasbro bought it in 1991.
Today’s Tonka trucks have had a bit of a makeover, with some taking an imaginative, almost comical theme for the really young drivers at heart. They have also brought the trucks indoors, with furniture friendly design and materials to keep mom happy and the carpet intact. One product geared toward toddlers is a smiling dump truck that does somersaults and plays music. Okay, maybe not the classic steel, yellow dump trucks that we are familiar with, but still a great way to bring out the trucker in your little ones.
And, speaking of those classic cat-litter haulers, the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York officially inducted Tonka trucks into the hall in 2001; a worthy accomplishment for the childhood toy that inspired all of us, professional drivers or not, to get trucking. The jingle says it all: “I love dumpin’, I love diggin’, I love haulin’, I love liftin’, I love dirt and rocks and sand and mud and muck. I love my Tonka! Man, I love my truck!” Come on and sing along!