Now You Know
Since the inception of this Tonka truck website, I too have been going through a learning curve. The teacher is also an avid student. "Knowledge is power". I receive several emails a week from visitors to the website. Nearly all have questions regarding Tonka trucks. Many of the answers are right at the tips of my fingers. It's just a matter of getting the fingers to hit the correct key on this well used keyboard for a fairly quick response. Then, there are the questions that call for a little research and there are comments regarding a visitor's past experiences as they relate to Tonka.
That's where this section comes in. There's no sense in keeping this interesting stuff to myself. Somebody out there in cyberspace is probably just waiting for this information to make their day. Consider your day made!
The alpha numeric serial number GR2-2431 military style serial number found on the Military Jeep Universal #251, Jeep Commander #304, Troop Transport #380 and the Military Giant Dozer #536 manufactured in 1964 was the plant phone number for Tonka in Mound, Minnesota.
The 25th anniversary Mighty Dump truck celebrates 25 years of Mighty Dumps. Tonka manufactured their first Dump Truck in 1949, the red and green Model #180. However, the very first Mighty Dump is recognized as being manufactured in 1965, hence the 25th silver anniversary model manufactured in 1990. Of note: The 25th anniversary model used exactly the same plastic and steel parts as the typical yellow Mighty Dump of 1990. To achieve the "chrome" finish, plastic and bare steel parts went through a process called vacuum plating or metalizing, in this case silver metalizing. The dump box, cab wrap, roof, chassis and hubs all went through this process prior to assembly.
It should be noted that Tonka did not have vacuum metalizing capabilities. All of the parts had to be shipped from El Paso, Texas to Sparta, Wisconsin for metalizing and back to Texas for assembly.
Here's another juicy tidbit of information that muddies the waters just a little. Tonka actually introduced the Model #900 Mighty Dump in March 1964 at Toy Fair held in New York City. The new model was pressed into production and immediately shipped to toy retailers across the country. When the Mighty Dump made its 1965 appearance, the model number changed to #2900 and it was joined by the model #2905 Mighty Tonka Clam and the model #2940 Mighty Tonka Mobile Clam. So, why wasn't the 25th Anniversary Mighty Dump issued in 1989 instead of 1990? Somebody help me out here, please!
Anyone who has had the opportunity to bid on Ebay, arguably, the internet's most popular auction site, has probably noticed that the 50th anniversary reproduction of the Tonka 1956 pickup truck tends to sell for almost double the 50th anniversary reproduction 1949 dump truck. Both trucks were issued in 1997 to celebrate 50 years of Tonka Toys (1947 - 1997). Why? It's very possible that the popularity of pickup trucks has an effect on the prices bidders are willing to pay for the 50th anniversary pickup. An additional possibility may also be the scarcity of the anniversary pickup compared to the dump truck. Rumor has it that 10000 each of the pickup and the dump were to be made available to consumers. The 1949 dump was the first of the two commemorative's to be issued. The full 10000 trucks were manufactured and imported from China as planned. However, there was some sort of glitch when orders were placed for the pickup by toy retailers here in the states. The rumor was a little vague as to whether or not the full 10000 pickups were manufactured and only about 2500 were imported or if just 2500 ended up being produced. In any event, far fewer of the pickups appear to have been available than the dump.
From the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's, Tonka manufactured between 900,000 and 1,000,000 Mighty Dump trucks a year. I recently interviewed an ex-Tonka employee who was the steel buyer during this time frame. Would you believe that in one year, 5 to 6 million pounds of steel was purchased just for the Mighty Dump. An additional 15 to 17 million pounds was purchased for the balance of the Mighty Tonka series and the Regular series of trucks.
Click here to take a quick peek at the cover of the Tonka 1960 Look Book, then come on back. For those of us who are of the Baby Boomer generation, the kid on the cover probably looks much like the photos in our family albums. The 7 year old kid on the cover is Brad Croissant, who as of May, 2001, lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For services rendered, Brad was paid a hefty $125 (not bad for 1960 wages) plus several of the Tonkas used in the photo shoot. Brad informed me that the Tonka trucks are long gone. Been there, done that unfortunately.
Tonka's "Gas Turbine", a series within a series, first appeared in 1965 as part of the Regular truck line. Tonka was actually on the cutting edge of concept and design, as were other toy manufactures like Structo and Marx. The Tonka offering closely resembles a gas turbine concept truck Ford was showing off in 1964. Take a look. Fairly close resemblance don't you think? Was the Tonka series actually based on Ford's concept? I recently reviewed an article in the October 1991 issue of Toy Trucker and Contractor magazine, written by Lloyd Laumann. Lloyd is recognized by many in Tonka collector circles, as THE historian on early Tonka trucks. Lloyd mentions that "Tonka designers did have a preview of the Ford experimental gas turbine". Want to learn more about Tonka's Gas Turbine trucks? Follow this link.
I know many of you Tonkaphiles have wondered for years, just what the specifications were for the axles used on your favorite Tonka truck. Especially those of you who must have the perfect restoration. (You know who you are!) Peerless Chain Company, located in beautiful Winona, Minnesota was a major supplier of axles to Tonka until the late 1980's. I contacted Peerless Chain Co. and posed the question. Robert Jensen was kind enough to respond with the following. Axles used on the larger trucks, such as the Regular and Mighty series, were cold headed steel. The axles were electro-plated per ASTM B633 Type III Class Fe/Zn5 Standard. In other words, zinc plated, .0002 inch minimum thickness with a clear chromate dip. Peerless also supplied axles with annular ring style knurls. The application would be to press the axle into a plastic wheel, causing the wheel and axle to rotate as one. Tonka used this type of axle extensively when they introduced the injection molded, one piece tire and wheel on many of their trucks in the 1980's. I don't know yet if this style axle was used earlier on the Mini-Tonka or the Tiny-Tonka series.
A toy manufacturer just doesn't go out and buy off the shelf materials and make a truck, especially a Tonka, for the kidos. All production materials that go into a Tonka truck must meet certain, critical government mandated criteria. The early years are still a bit blurry. Translated, I haven't been able to find a source who would know what that criteria may have been. In the later years however, this we do know. Everything from the plastic resin used in the tires and windshield, etc., to the paint, even the stickers and packaging was tested to insure that if little Johnny decided to do a taste test on any part of a Tonka, he wouldn't be at risk from some sort of heavy metal type poisoning. (Reassuring isn't it!) Using very sophisticated equipment, like something called an Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer (AAS) replaced in later years by an Inductive Coupled Plasma Spectrometer (ICP), highly skilled technicians tested every new shipment of production material to insure that levels of barium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, antimony, lead, mercury and selenium, met required government standards.
I know you're probably just dying to learn just what the accuracy is on these two pieces of high tech test equipment. Hold on to your slide rule. (I've still got the one I used in college). The AAS has an accuracy of 1 part per million. Now, get a grip on your pocket protector. The ICP is good for 1 part per billion. That's an awful lot of zeros.
In today's high tech world, the slide rule has given way to the digital calculator. And a design engineer would be lost without CAD/CAM software loaded into his/her multi-gig computer. However, during Tonka's formative years, Tonka designers actually made their prototype trucks out of wood. That's right, wood! These wooden models would be critiqued and analyzed by the various design/engineering functions before being field tested by kids in the neighborhood. Feedback from the kids was often incorporated into the final toy design. We've come a long way, baby!
O.K. Mighty Tonka enthusiasts. Here's some more trivia for you. Selected Mighty Tonka models first began using extrusion blow molded tires; referred to as Mighty balloon tires; in 1967 as opposed to the injection molded tires used since 1965. Time to go pull a couple of your old Mighty Tonkas off the shelf for a look see. Take a close look at the tire surfaces. The tread area and the sidewalls may not be as smooth as intended. You may observe varying degrees of texturing that, in many cases, gives the tires a wood-grained look. The Mound, MN facility was not air conditioned. When Mighty balloon tires were being produced on hot humid days, the cycle time was such that while the cooled molds were open, moisture from the air would condense in the cavities. When the next parrison was blown, the trapped condensation on the cavity walls left it's "water" mark on the surface of the newly created tires.
So, just what exactly is extrusion blow molding? I found this definition while surfing the web. "A molding process whereby heat-softened polymer is forced into the shape of a hollow tube. (NOTE: This hollow tube is technically called a parrison.) While still soft, a mold closes around the tube, pinching the top and bottom of the tube closed. A blow pin is introduced, and air is forced through the pin forcing the tube to take the shape of the blow mold cavity." Click here to see a typical blow molding machine.