Grab a Tonka and let’s play

I drove past a construction site today and felt a longing in my heart when I saw the great big piles of dirt and sand. I just wanted to stop my car and grab a Tonka truck.

I am a huge fan of Tonka trucks. We had a ton of them when I was a kid – the real metal ones. Dump trucks, graters, various other building equipment; all the important things a kid would need to build a small road in the middle of the driveway, the pasture or the garden.

I took Tonkas for granted when I was a child. Not only did we have piles of them to play with, I visited the Tonka factory each year in elementary school and was given a free toy each time. The grade school field trip usually included a stop at Betty Crocker’s factory also, where we each received a box that had a small cake mix and little plastic spatulas and stuff to make the cake.

Between me and my three brothers and six years of elementary school each, we had a whole lot of those free Tonkas. They were dune buggies, if memory serves, and pretty tame next to the Mighty Dump. They were built Tonka Tough, like all of those products, but I’m not sure any survived our childhood.

The mighty truck line, however, was indestructible. You could build mountains, lakes, roads and more. You could tie them behind your bike and drag them down the road to see how fast they would go before they rolled. You could settle your cat in the back of the dump truck and shove it across the sidewalk or down the roof of the doghouse. And because they were made of metal, you could whip one at your brother’s head when he was threatening to rip the arms off a doll and do some serious damage.

I have very fond memories of Tonkas flying through the air for one reason or another.
When my own kids were little, Tonkas weren’t made of metal as often, but I found a stash of the old ones at a garage sale. You know … peeling paint, rusty sharp edges. The good stuff.

Eric brought home a brand new Mighty Dump when I was still pregnant with our first son, Nicholas. An actual birthday present.

All three of my kids played with those trucks for hours, first in Pensacola, Fla., then in Great Lakes, Ill. and finally in Avoca. We gathered a few newer ones along the way, of course, and added some trucks that weren’t actual Tonka brand. The trucks were stored in the old shed out behind our garage, and the kids would drag them out each spring. They made roads in the garden patch, scraped up gravel in the driveway and dug trenches along the field behind our yard. Every now and then a truck would turn up over at the neighbor’s house, which at the time belonged to two delightful old gentleman who loved to watch the kids play and would occasionally join them.

The old shed in which the trucks were housed was separated from our garage by a rarely-used alley that runs through our prop-erty. Then one summer day, tragedy struck. The boys, who were still pretty little, left the trucks outside when they were summoned to the house for their nightly hosing-off. The next morning an Alliant Energy truck came by to trim branches and flattened a couple of the kids’ toy trucks.

Lesson learned about putting your toys away, though.

Eventually their interests turned to other things, and the Tonkas spent more and more time in the shed and less time in the yard, garden or driveway.

The other day I went into the little shed to grab my tomato cages and caught a glimpse of yellow. There, tucked back in a corner, were a few old, rusty Tonkas. Eric and I plan to tear down that shed sometime this summer, so I’ll have to find a new stash spot for the trucks.

Heck, I should keep one or two in my car.

You never know when I’ll be in the mood to build a road or dig a lake.



2 thoughts on “Grab a Tonka and let’s play

  1. They work great for building roads and digging holes, but they suck at getting steering wheels out of tree branches.

  2. This is true, but I don’t think Tonkas were created to be tossed into a tree at the offending steering wheel.

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