I Had That! #15: Tonka Truck With Road Signs

Let’s crank this sucker back as far as it will go. 1973. This is the first item I can remember in any kind of significant way.

Every kid has toy trucks. Kids love trucks. There are hour-long DVDs of nothing but road construction equipment which are, essentially, pornography for three-year-olds.

I had an array of Tonka trucks, back when they were solid metal tetanus factories that could bludgeon a person. When going through pages of images looking for this one in particular, I was going, “Yep, had that one. And that one. I remember that one.” I had a bunch but I think this is because while little kids love trucks, they outgrow them completely, so Tonka hoards get passed on to younger kids, growing in size along the way. Anyhow, the way I mainly remember playing with these was not in the dirt, but on the living room floor. My mom would empty dried red beans on the floor and I’d scoop them, push them, load them, and dump them with my trucks. The bean were going to be soaked, drained, and then boiled anyhow, so no big deal.

In the summer of 1973 my family, who was living in Corning, NY, at the time, vacationed at Indian Cave Lodge in New Hampshire. I don’t remember a whole lot about the place; my sister helped me out with some of this. Two things I remember about the place. I remember a big building with a stage in it, where I guess little shows or something could be put on. I remember wandering into it, and it was unlocked but unattended, and finding a box of musical instruments like cymbals and stuff. The other thing I remember was the truck pictured above.

That picture is from an eBay auction; the can of Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale triggers no memories in me.

We were there for my birthday, and I turned five years old. I got that truck, which had a road sign it could carry around. The road sign would flip and reveal different signs, and this fascinated me as I couldn’t figure out how it worked. I still don’t have a great idea, honestly. I mean, I know the general principle, but the actual mechanics kind of elude me. I remember playing with it among the dirt paths and tree roots at the camp.

I also remember being upset at my birthday because we were in a restaurant and the staff sang to me and I hated it, crying and yelling for them to stop. Dad was furious with me, telling me I had no sense of appreciation, and my mom pointed out that I had just turned five so no, I actually did not. My sister remembers a little more, like apparently the lodge (which doesn’t seem to exist anymore) was some kind of health food place and they didn’t actually have a cake available, so they found some kind of frozen Sara Lee cake and it was still frozen when they served it. That part I don’t remember, but I remember the singing.

This truck is one of the first things I can remember having and forming memories of my own around. There are other things I knew I had. One was a Casper the Friendly Ghost Halloween costume where I added to the ghostly illusion by wearing socks on my hands. Another was a different Halloween costume, a robot with a small light bulb in the forehead that lit up (I believe it’s the first one in the fourth row here). But these are things that most of my memories come from being told about. The Tonka truck is something I remember myself.

When did I get it? August of 1973.

Do I still have it? No, I think all of my trucks were eventually bequeathed to a young nephew or cousin to continue the cycle of Tonka. For all I know they’re still being passed on, as those things were nigh-indestructable.

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