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Even Tough Guys Like Toys
By Michaele Birney Arneson
April 1, 2003

When my husband and I moved a few years ago, he was in charge of the garage. With him being a general contractor, you might imagine that the garage was stacked floor to ceiling with everything ranging from assorted screws and bolts to larger toys--I mean, tools--that do something related to construction.

Tonka Tough Bulldozer

To manage it all, he implemented the $2 rule: Any single item, or collection of items-- such as a half-used box of nails--that could be bought for $2 or less was given away, recycled or thrown out. He figured that since he was more likely to go out and buy an item of that value rather than search amongst unpacked boxes marked “stuff,” he might as well get rid of it.

I think this was all a smokescreen to create more room for his TONKA trucks.

When we gathered up our belongings, he condensed his sentimental items into less than two boxes. Mine consisted of an entire U-Haul truck, with a second truck containing our furniture. But, as he kept reminding me, we could not leave his trucks behind.

I finally asked him what was so important about those trucks that had been stored away in a back corner of the garage. He fondly recalled how each year for his birthday and Christmas his grandparents would give him a TONKA catalog ahead of the event, and when he had decided which one to add to his collection, the three of them would head off to the store to purchase it.

Tonka Mighty Front Loader

Of course, as a boy, he was fascinated by their image as a “tough boy” toy and did not understand the craftsmanship that the brand was built on or the affordability that added to overall market appeal. However, the original creators of TONKA—Mound Metalcraft Company, located near Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota—understood the formula so well that in 1947 their entire first-year inventory, 37,000 trucks in two designs, was sold out in just a few months.

Since then, more than 230 million trucks have been sold, with an annual consumption of 119,000 pounds of yellow paint and 5.1 million pounds of sheet metal to produce its growing line. It now includes more than 30 trucks, vehicles, and play sets manufactured and marketed by Hasbro, Inc. In 2000, TONKA was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, which recognizes toys that have played a vital role in the lives of children and that have inspired and helped kids learn.

Not all of my husband’s trucks have made it through his various stages of life. The few stored in the back corner of the garage are the remaining physical connection to his childhood memories of sandbox construction lots, creations conceived by imagination and special time with his grandparents. That’s a durability that extends further than what Mound Metalcraft probably envisioned.

But don’t let him know I told you all this. He’s a tough construction guy.


Writer's Bio: Michaele Birney Arneson is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in children’s topics, education and employment, health science, and environmental issues.

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