Tonka Pickup Restoration Page 1

As mentioned on the Home Page, there are times when I leave my Tonka pickups in original, as found condition. Oh, I'll keep a sandbox scratch or three and what I consider minimal play wear. And, if I'm ever lucky enough stumble across a decent first year issue, 1955 red stepside at a very reasonable price, I'll leave it as is. However, there are other times when stripping the pickup to bare metal and starting from scratch, is the only way to go. For me, it's a matter of preference. I'm not into collecting pickups for investment reasons. That's what 401K's are for. And, you won't find me standing in line at the Antiques Roadshow waiting for an appraisal on a restored truck. I know better.

If you decide that you want to restore your Tonka pickup, please take a look at this approach. It works and the results can be very rewarding.

This restoration process is the step by step method I follow for restoring Tonka stepside pickup trucks. However, much of the information applies to most of the other models Tonka manufactured during the 1955 through 1967 time span.

A note on selecting tools to use on your restoration project. Shop 101 tried to teach me a long time ago, to use a tool for its intended purpose. Screwdrivers are supposed to drive screws. Chisels do just that. They are not pry bars. As you will notice as you read through this restoration process, I must have dozed off while certain key elements of tool uses was being presented. I've been a little creative in my tool selections for my restoration projects. For your resto project, use the tool that best fits your needs and preferably the tool designed for the job.

Step 1-Removing the Front Bumper & Grille

Let's start the restoration process by removing the front bumper and grille. Except for 1955, bumpers are held in place with two rivets. From the underside of the pickup, carefully grind off the rolled part of each rivet using one of those high speed rotary tools. I use a Ryobi Multi-Tool I purchased on sale at a Sears. I used to borrow a Dremel Tool from my next door neighbor before I finally purchased my own hardware. Both work as advertised. Use one of the grinding wheel attachments that came with the tool. If you get into the metal of the cab wrap while grinding down the roll, don't worry about it. After you blast all the old finish off and repaint, it's a non issue. After the roll has been removed, you may need to coax the rivet totally out. I use a small screwdriver with the blade filed down to a point. Place the tip into the back on the rivet and tap with a hammer. Viola!! A small center or pin punch also works. If you are taking your bumper off of a 1955 or 1962 through 1967 model, the grille is connected to the bumper and that takes care of that. If you are the owner of a 1956-1961 model, pop out the headlights from inside the cab and the grille will fall into your lap.

Step 2-Removing the Tailgate

Now it's time to remove the chains and tailgate assuming your truck still has them attached. Both of these items had a bad habit of becoming separated from the pickup. Pry open the link that is attached to the pickup's bed rails, just enough to remove the link. A very small, flat blade screw driver works okay as a pry bar. All of the pickups I own that originally came with chains, either had none or what was left was a candidate for the trash can. Reproduction chains are available. Now for the tailgate. Bend the ears, the part of the tailgate that fits over the wire form on models through 1959 or over the chassis ears on 1960 to 1967 models, slightly outward with needle nose pliers until the tailgate can be coaxed off. Don't get in a rush. Also, no need to worry about straightening the ears on the tailgate just now. You can do that after it has been painted and reinstalled.

Step 3-Removing the Tires

This step is where I have the most difficulty salvaging the parts. Because the whitewalls and tires tend to become very dry and brittle with age, even after using the utmost care in removal, I may still leave a rough edge, (loosely translated that means damage), on the tire or whitewall. If your Tonka pickup is a candidate for restoration, chances are the whitewalls have cracked and/or have a yellowish brown tint, caused by our suns UV rays, and may be beyond salvaging. However, if you do want to take a shot at saving the original parts, be very careful. Put a small amount of liquid soap, where the whitewall meets the tire. A cotton swap works great. The soap will act as a lubricant. Using a very small, flat blade screwdriver, insert between the whitewall and tire. You should be able to pry up and pull out the whitewall. The wheel cover can now be popped out of the whitewall. That takes care of that. If your Tonka pickup does not have whitewalls, put a small amount of liquid soap where the wheel cover meets the tire. Insert a small screwdriver tip into one of the holes on he wheel cover and pry up and out. Once again, this is another area where damage to the wheel cover is probable. Be as careful as possible.

Tip This tip was passed along to me by Victor. In addition to adding a dab of lubricant, such as liquid soap, to the edge of the wheel cover and the tire sidewall to facilitate removal of the wheel cover, add a little heat to make an old, hard tire a little more pliable. You don't have to use a professional heat gun. Heck no. Just grab the family hair dryer, crank it up to max, and work the air flow over the wheel cover/sidewall area. You might be able to just pop the wheel cover out by flexing the tire. You can always grab your small pick to encourage the wheel cover along if the tire doesn't quite get as flexible as you wanted. It's a little early to mention this, but this process also works on re-assembly if you plan to reuse your old tires. Heat the tire well, add a dab of liquid soap, and pop the wheel cover back into place

Tip This tip was passed along to me by another Tonka enthusiast. If you are the proud owner of a truck that has either the round or triangular holes in the wheel covers, you can use a small bladed pick that has the tip bent at a 90 degree angle. Insert the tip through one of the wheel cover holes, rotate the tip until it is pointed toward the edge of the wheel cover and gently pull outward. To help ease the wheel cover out, lubricate the area where the wheel cover and the sidewall meet. The wheel cover should pop out. This action in turn will allow for easy removal of the whitewall if so equipped

We finally made it to removing the tires. You will notice when you look at the axle ends, there is a difference. One end is the headed end of the axle. It is the larger of the two ends. The other end appears to just have a small burr around the circumference of the axle. This is the end you want to work with. Using your rotary tool with the same grinding wheel you used on the bumper rivets, carefully grind down the burr just enough to push the axle through the flat washer and the tire. If the flat washers manage to escape, they are readily available at your favorite hardware store. In fact, you may not need them on reassembly. More on that later. Now it's time to remove the cab wrap roof assembly.

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