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February 8, 2023

All Trucks, Great and Small

Still digging Tonka trucks after 75 years

Imagine a small kid, five years old, getting a Tonka truck for Christmas. Imagine later that kid playing with a dad who has slightly bigger toys, same color, all set-up to make playtime fantasies real. 

Yup! Dad plays with a small kid in the dirt. First, how great is that? Dad plays in the dirt! Plays and teaches at the same time—it’s a dad thing, usually. The excavator is filling the miniature dump truck. Looking closely at the right-side picture, one will see dirt pouring through massive teeth filling this toy truck, in the process making a little kid’s dreams come true. 

What a picture to close out the year! Christmas thrills and chills. Oh, my goodness.

Fun facts: Tonka makes metal, die-cast steel, toy models at 1:64 scale. Tonka began in Mound, MN, in 1946, three partners in a small schoolhouse making better quality gardening tools, calling their business Mound Metalcraft. A prior business in the schoolhouse made toy trucks and decided to sell. 

In November 1955, Mound Metalcraft became Tonka Toys because the sideline toys were outselling gardening tools. The company’s new name comes from a Dakota Sioux word (tanka), meaning “big” or “great.” There were several changes in ownership as Tonka Toys traveled the world and large toy manufacturers invested in the brand, including Palitoy (UK) and Hasbro (U.S.).  

Caterpillar is the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer. It was created in 1925 through the merger of Holt Manufacturing and C. L. Best Tractor. The secret of Caterpillar’s success is track, rather than wheel, technology. At the turn of the century, Holt produced tractors in Stockton. Early steam tractors were heavy beasts, weighing up to 20 tons. 

As the San Joaquin Delta developed into farmland, heavy tractors sank in wet soil. In 1904, a prototype track with redwood slats was developed to address sinking. Basically, the wooden boards laid down to prevent sinking were turned into a continuous loop. By 1920, Holt Manufacturing registered the “Caterpillar” trademark. 

Today, Caterpillar’s revenue is over $51 billion. In addition to heavy equipment, Caterpillar sells a line of toy equipment and trademarked clothing. The word tractor comes from Latin trahere, meaning “to drag.”   

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