Recalling the joys of Tonka trucks, cranes and model railroad trains


Whether the cargo is a Teddy Bear or set up for a crane, Tonka trucks were a hallmark of childhood, and always a good Christmas gift.

The coronavirus has certainly changed the habits of many of us. Personally, I have always been an avid reader, but that pastime has probably tripled in the last 10 months. Most of my reading material is history, and some of my favorites are “Good Old Days” and “Reminisce” magazines.

A recent story I read reminded me of some of my personal family activities. The story I refer to starts off – a young man writes when he was 4 months old in 1940, his 7-year-old brother received a Lionel train as a Christmas gift. About 1944, he started to have real memories of the older brother and father setting up the train around the Christmas tree on a platform with Christmas figures each year. He goes on to recite his father, who was an air raid warden, putting on his air raid warden helmet as it was wartime and blackouts were being enforced. As the years go by, the brother, now 18, goes into military service, and the train set is given to the younger brother, and the custom is continued, with the train being set up each year by father and son around the Christmas tree.

When the older brother completes his military service, he comes back, married, and in time has children. The younger brother gives the ’40 train set back to the original owner.

In 2012, the younger brother sadly goes on to say, the older brother passed away, and his offspring did not share the love of the train. So the train came back to the young brother.

 Now the father is gone, so it is up to the young brother, who has revised the tradition of putting the train around the tree for all the grandkids and family to enjoy at Christmas.

 Now, my Christmas story continues from an article earlier written about hobbies.

A similar line was established with my 1946 Christmas gift of a Lionel 2020 steam locomotive, a smoker and a whistler. As a boy I enjoyed that train immensely, but when high school came along in the 1950s, the train went to a box. My previous article covered the basement railroad my son and I built in 1970 in Everett. My 2020 engine was a mainstay on that railroad. The train is now packed and in storage.

In my will, the train will be given to the Lynden Pioneer Museum, along with many of my son’s collections, such as coffee grinders, motion lamps, etc. My son passed in 2008, the collections were left to me, and I donated them for the preservation and education of the public to the museum in Lynden, Wash.  

Now, to a surprise Christmas story and nostalgia of a toy.

In 1964, Matthew, a day or two before Christmas, on a visit to Santa at a retail Sears & Roebuck, asked for a Michigan Mobile Crane. As Jean and I had already purchased all the Christmas gifts, Matthew did not get the Michigan Crane that year. In 1964 or 1965, we shopped the stores in Everett for an all-metal Tonka crane – none available. On a trip to Seattle, we happened into the huge Sears & Roebuck Catalog distribution center and huge retail outlet in south Seattle. Again, no crane. A stop at the catalog counter showed that the catalog department had the crane we were looking for.

We did order the crane, thinking it might be delivered after Christmas, but at least our son would have his request from the year before. It was ordered in the evening. The next evening Jean and I and the kids parked the car in the garage, came in the back door of the house, and there, sitting on the newly installed (the year before) dryer on the enclosed back porch was the Michigan Crane! It was delivered to the door of 1714. There was only a sticker on the crane cab – “to be delivered to” and our address. But no identification of who delivered it.

As a point of interest, my dad had built a picket fence around our rental house. The front porch was open to the weather. Whoever delivered that crane went through a second gate that divided the back yard from the front yard, and I’m sure, with loving hands, set that crane on Jean’s dryer.

To this day, I have been amazed, as we were at the time, that that crane was ordered from a catalog department in an evening, and the next evening it arrived on our back porch! A little Christmas miracle for which I have no explanation. Who delivered that crane from a major catalog store?

The crane received a lot of playtime on the front room rug, with several playmates 4-8 years old. Matthew had Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, both round and square, and LEGOs were just coming into popularity.

The truck was filled with building projects, and the kids would use the clamshell on the mobile crane to lift the Lincoln Logs out of the truck onto the building site. When it was time to put stuff away, the buildings were disassembled and the crane was used to put them back in the truck.

The year before the crane was the Tonka all-metal truck. For a 4-5 year-old boy, the truck lasted amazingly well. But when sister Susan came along, Matthew’s truck was worn out and a replacement was purchased for his sister. She loved that truck, until we came to Oregon, and the truck was underfoot and a trip hazard, so I put it on a shelf in her bedroom. The original truck was pulled behind Matthew’s wagon on a string, loaded with rocks and sand and dirt. It was pulled by his scooter, also on a string, out on the sidewalk and around and around the block.

I feel so blessed to have these precious memories. I wish each and everyone, and the staff at The Chronicle, the best of health and happiness in 2021 and create your own precious memories.



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