Note: This feature was printed in the May TT&C 2011 issue.
Mike Anderson with one of his original 1957 Tonkas.
Tonka AAA wrecker.
Shelves of trucks in Mike’s bonus room, which is filled with shelving and display cases for the trucks.
Richfield, the gasoline of power.
A Buddy L Rival dog food truck.
Tonka Toy Transport and an ACE truck.
Other features in the May 2011 issue include:
• Evolution of Toy Fair
• Putney’s Tonka Rest Home
• Collector Update Checklist
• Something New From Something Old
Mike Anderson, 66, of Aliso Viejo, Calif., said it all started 23 years ago when his mother-in-law gave him a collector car from the Franklin Mint. “That’s when I realized there were toys like that out there,” he said.
His real passion, though, was trucks. “I grew up in a family that had a manufacturing business and we had our own trucks.
“I started searching around for toy trucks, although I never even gave it a thought that they were collectible toys.”
His collection now numbers 2,000-3,000, he estimates. “I’ve lost track,” he said. They are displayed all over his house. “I was in the kitchen cabinet business all my life, so in my house, I had custom book shelving made for whatever scale I collected.” He mostly collects 1/16 scale size but also has various sizes from 1/64 to 1/16.
He has a bonus room, which is his office over the garage, where he had overhead shelving, U-shaped bookcases and display cabinets built. However, neighborhood children wanted to handle and play with the toys. “I didn’t want to be rude and say those are collectible toys,” he said. “After all, they were durable.”
To remedy the problem, he bought Plexiglas and had it cut to size to surround the cabinet. “You could still see the toys but you couldn’t touch them,” he explained.
“I display my newer and customized ones, such as Smith-Miller, Buddy L and Tonkas, in my bonus room to show people when they come over,” he said.
At one time he attended toy shows in the Midwest, but ever since eBay, he mostly shops there because it is much easier. He said he hasn’t bought anything original for a while.
He vacations in Michigan each summer where he said there are lots of antique stores. “If I can find a decent truck, I’ll purchase it,” he said. “I look for something that is lower priced and not very attractive but is a solid truck. I bring it home, strip it and customize it. That’s my true love.
“I come up with the idea and gather the bodies, cabs and parts. I’ll take a Tonka cab and frame and mate it with a different truck body like a Nylint U-haul van, or a Tonka pumper body on a fire truck and mate it with a cab from a different manufacturer.
“I have the toy powder-coated, then I assemble it, add purchased parts or parts from my inventory, such as tires and wheels, and custom decals. If I find a truck that I want to customize, I may end up using the same old stock wheels or tires or try to buy some parts.” He added, though, it’s becoming more difficult to find parts.
His collection includes a number of steel trucks that he customized to be identical to trucks that were used in the kitchen cabinet company. “I painted them the company colors and had custom decals made. They were exactly like what we had in the business. Our first tractor-truck was a 1956 GMC, and Buddy L made that same truck. I have photographs of the life-size truck and the matching toy truck.”
His favorite piece is a 1954 plastic Ford truck with trailer cabover. “I had that truck as a child, but I don’t know what happened to it,” he said.
He recalls an interesting incident that happened involving a Marx blue plastic cab with gray steel trailer and red plastic gates. He was planning to attend the annual toy show at the San Mateo fairgrounds in northern California. “About two weeks before that show, I had a dream that I was playing with that truck that I had as a child. When I walked down the very first aisle, I found the exact truck in my dream, the same one I had as a child. I bought it on the spot. It was unbelievable.”
Another incident he recalls was when he was shopping in Michigan. “The guy wanted $33 for a Smith-Miller lumber truck. He gave me a 10-percent discount so I got it for $30.” When Mike sent it to be restored, he learned it was worth $600! “That was my first and last deal like that,” he said.
He said he is trying to be more selective about what he buys now because of space and prices. “I have to remember I don’t have any space,” he said.
However, he added, “I just pretty much collect anything that catches my eye.” And where will he put them? “I’ll squeeze them in someplace,” he said.
More photos available in the May TT&C 2011 magazine. Call (701) 883-5206 to purchase.