Note: This feature was printed in the Dec. TT&C 2010 issue.
Mario Quagliano holds two of his most rare metro vans, the 1956 Midwest Milk (right hand) and the 1956 Bond Bread (left hand).
Variety in Tonka trucks are illustrated here with delivery vans, delivery trucks, wreckers and fire engines.
Tonka Toys of Mound, Minn., presented this Tonka Tanker with two bulk storage tanks.
Tonka construction models displayed are mobile cranes, graders, DOT pieces, dozers and dump trucks.
You may not recognize the Tonka semitrucks in the top three rows, they are all quite rare.
The Hardware Hank box van is another rare 1954 promotional release.
Another rare Tonka in Quagliano’s collection is this Stix, Baer & Fuller metro van.
Here is the rare 1956-1/2 Bruce Floor Wax (left) and the 1954 StarKist Tuna (right) that was available through regular Tonka retail outlets.
The Bond Bread metro van is a promotional piece distributed only to the company’s drivers.
Collector Mario Quagliano has more than 370 Tonka trucks on display in his collection.
Other features in the Dec. 2010 issue include:
• Roland "Ron" Gleisner, Retired and Loving it!
• The Plastic Surgeon Car nut makes business out of collecting hobby
It seems that Mario Quagliano was destined to collect pressed-steel trucks. In 1959, his grandmother gave him his first Tonka truck, a white Thunderbird Express semi that quickly became a childhood favorite. Although he didn’t hang on to that first Tonka, real and toy trucks were in his future. Quagliano’s uncle and father both drove trucks for a living, and he followed in their professional footsteps at his first opportunity.
“From the 1930s on, my whole family has been involved in the trucking industry,” he said. “My uncles and father were in the business, we did truck cleaning as well. I’m a driver myself. I started working for a truck line right out of high school in 1972. Just been around them my whole life.”
His experiences behind the wheel developed an appreciation for transportation toys as he took his first steps as a collector in 1986. While on a vacation in the Wisconsin Dells with his family, Quagliano stopped in an antique shop and, “I got the toy bug,” he said. “I did not buy anything in the Dells, but I came close. The prices were way too high.”
The Collecting Bug
A few weeks after that inspiring vacation, the suburban-Chicago native found himself searching through local antiques stores until he came across the toy that started his collection, a 1956 Tonka Suburban pumper.
The toy was in excellent condition and still in its original box with all of its pieces intact. (Note: Tonka fire pumpers came with two side-mounted hoses, one side-mounted ladder, a hose and nozzle that was rolled around the reel and a fire hydrant that was actually used to attach the pumper to a garden hose. The pumper really pumped water. Other pieces that are often lost include the four mounted “dumbbells,” the fender-mounted siren and the red light affixed to the cab’s roof.)
Quagliano thought the shopkeeper’s price tag of $135 was a good price. “So I bought it,” he said.
With his first piece in hand and the collecting bug firmly implanted, Quagliano began to search out other trucks for his collection. It didn’t take long to discover the local toy shows and toy auctions in the Midwest. Soon, his large basement was outfitted with shelves to house his growing collection.
His collection received a big boost in 1989 courtesy of an auction in Mason City, Iowa. “It was an auction of an estate, and the gentleman had a fairly large toy collection,” Quagliano said. He passed on other types of toys at the auction and concentrated on the pressed steel he had become so fond of.
“My son, Mario Aaron, was a big help to me at that auction,” he said. “I was driving a Buick Riviera [a two-door sedan] and we filled it from floor to roof with about 40 trucks.” The trucks were wrapped in towels and boxes to keep them from scratching in the well-stuffed car.
“An auction in Lafayette, Ind., in 1994 was another great auction for me,” Quagliano said. “I found a box boom truck, and the Wholesome Bread van. EBay wasn’t around back then. Like just about everyone else, I’ve bought a lot of nice trucks off of eBay auctions in the last few years.”
Quagliano never had much luck finding toys at garage sales, instead, he concentrated on favorite toy shows, including the Chicago Toy Show at the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles, Ill., the Circus Maximus Toy and Pedal Car Show in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the Toledo Toy Show in Toledo, Ohio. “I had to go where the toys were,” he said. Among Tonka enthusiasts, he picked up the nickname “Tonka Moe.”
After almost 25 years, Quagliano has more than 370 Tonkas in his collection. “In the last few years, I’ve set up as a dealer at the Kane County show to get rid of some stuff,” he said. “It’s just twice a year, and it’s fun to do the hotel trading and get together with the other dealers for pizza. These days, I miss the older fellows that I used to meet.”
The Rare Trucks
Along the way, Quagliano developed a healthy interest in rare Tonkas. The limited production of promotional-use trucks makes them quite rare today. Tonka was known to have issued “blank” trucks to companies who applied their own graphics/decals and then distributed them to employees or special customers.
Or Tonka simply did the production itself, but never offered the promotional trucks through its catalog or regular retail outlets. Quagliano’s collection houses quite a number of these rare trucks, and he highlighted several of his favorites.
The Trans-American truck was a prototype done in 1955 and had a red cab with a tan box trailer and the Trans-American graphic on it.
“The Schenley Whiskies truck is really rare,” Quagliano explained. “There were only five made—just a promotional model. I’ve only seen three or four and they were well-played-with, mine is the nicest example I’ve ever seen.” The White box van truck was produced in the mid-1950s.
His White 1955 Minute Maid semi is a variation with a very rare driver’s-side door decal. “They only made maybe four of the trucks for promotional reasons, and that decal is for a town called Plymouth, Fla.,” he said. “The others don’t have anything on the door.”
The rare Frederick & Nelson semi from 1952 features the cabover, solid wheel design of other pre-1954 Tonkas and has the distinctive green paint that Tonka used on its promotional models for Marshall Field & Company in Chicago. Frederick & Nelson was a department store chain in the Pacific Northwest that became a Field’s subsidiary in 1929.
“The Dayton Company semi was made in 1948 for company drivers,” Quagliano said. “They never offered this truck to the public and only made 25.”
The Bond Bread metro van is another rare piece. “Only a handful were made for the drivers, about 20-25,” he said.
The Midwest Milk metro van was made in 1956. Quagliano explained, “They were made up by a company for the dairy. They bought blanks from Tonka, and Midwest Milk added their graphics. Not many of these were made, and they are tough to find.”
The Younkers Department Store semi was produced in 1953 and, like so many Tonkas that used parts from previous production runs, its trailer was made in the late 1951 or early 1952 period. “It’s the only black semi that Tonka ever made. Only other black toy from Tonka was a black camper from 1965,” Quagliano said.
The Republic Van Lines semi was released with some models featuring hand-painted graphics and some featuring decals. “It’s very tough to find one in good condition,” he said.
The Kroger semi often causes confusion. “There are only about 10 or so Tonka-made Kroger semis in the country,” Quagliano said. “Dunwell also made a Kroger that ended up being the production model when they outbid Tonka for the rights. Tonka didn’t mass-produce the Kroger, and it’s a rare piece.”
The American Breeders Service semi was made in 1958-59 and was also offered in 1960. “The company was from Madison, Wis., and there are only about five left in the country,” Quagliano said.
The Hardware Hank box van was released in 1954 with a red cab and blue box. It’s cheerful graphics read, “Hardware Hank Stores and Warehouses, The Best for Less.”
The Bruce Floor Wax box van had a white cab and box. Graphics on the box read, “Smart Women Use Bruce Floor Wax Products.” Quagliano noted Tonka’s mixed use of parts from different years. “This truck is a 1956-1/2. It’s a ’56 cab with a ’57 roof and that makes it the ’56-1/2. Some of the private labels were only made that way.”
With so many rare and fascinating Tonkas in his collection, Quagliano did note the one truck that eluded his grasp. “I would have liked that Kroehler Furniture truck. But it’s probably a one-of and that’s as rare as it gets,” he said.
Crazy for Trucks
His future plans for the collection include its sale, “Maybe I’ll take some of it to auction and leave some for my two boys if they want them.
“I was crazy for trucks since I was a small kid,” Quagliano said. “I collected toy trucks for fun not profit because I really liked them. Tonka was always my favorite. My goal was to accomplish collecting Tonkas from 1947 to 1962. I feel I achieved this goal, and I’m glad to share this with the collecting public.… I collected them because they’re an art form in 20-gauge steel. I collected just because I liked them.”
Oh, and that Thunderbird Express truck that didn’t survive his childhood? “I have one in my collection now,” he said. “It isn’t the same one that my grandmother gave me, but that’s okay. I have the white one sitting right next to a red one on the shelf.”