Restoring A Tonka Truck With Science

The yellow Tonka Truck. Instantly recognizable by any child of decades past, that big metal beast would always make you popular around the sandbox. There were no blinking lights to dazzle, no noises to be heard (unless you count the hard plastic wheels rolling on concrete), even the dumping action is completely manual. But back then, it was a possession to be treasured indeed.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that there is a certain following for these classic trucks today, though like with most other collectibles, a specimen in good condition can be prohibitively expensive. The truck that [PoppaFixIt] found in the trash was certainly not one of those specimens, but with some patience and knowledge of basic chemistry, he was able to bring this vintage toy back to the present.

The first step was to disassemble the truck. Before they switched over to Chinese mass production, these trucks were built with actual rivets. After drilling them out and unfolding the little metal tabs that toy makers loved back in the day, he was able to separate the metal body of the truck from the plastic detail bits. The plastic parts just needed a fresh coat of paint, but the rusted metal body would need a bit more attention.

Remembering a tip he read online, [PoppaFixIt] decided to attempt electrolytic rust removal to get the metal parts back into serviceable condition. A big plastic bin, some washing soda, and old steel window weights for his sacrificial anodes was all the equipment he needed for the electrolysis tank. To power the chemical reaction he used a standard 12 volt car battery and charger wired in parallel; this step is important, as he notes most newer chargers are smart enough not to work unless they see a real battery connected.

After running the setup overnight, the collected rust and junk on the window weights was proof enough the process worked. From there, it was just a fresh coat of yellow paint, a new sticker kit from eBay, and his Tonka truck was ready to face another 30+ years of service.

If you’re looking to restore things larger than a child’s toy, you may be interested in the much larger electrolytic setup we’ve covered previously. Of course if you’re really pressed for time, you could try blasting the rust away with a laser.

34 thoughts on “Restoring A Tonka Truck With Science

    1. My mom got rid of those out of the basement under my protest–“you’re too old for these!” along with the Buddy L trash truck with working piston for the bed and pristine Nylint Michigan Crane. These would have dated from the early seventies.

          1. This. “Knowledge is power” is wrong. More accurately, valuable knowledge is a power multiplier. Knowledge that’s free or cheap to anyone is practically worthless as a competitive advantage – ability to wield all such knowledge just brings your knowledge multiplier up to average.

  1. Almost as much fun to be had by just pretending you’re a Tonka truck. Kids give me odd looks though as I trundle round the house chugging. I can embarrass them in so many ways.

    1. Lol love it :) My niece calls the garbage truck the “airplane truck” because she thinks the loud engine sounds like an airplane. Good times…
      Miss my Tonka trucks-many adventures with it and Fischer Price adventure people back in the day :)

  2. “There’s lots of model trucks, and model trailers too!
    They’re all built with the Tonka touch,
    the one that boys like so much!
    Remember boys,
    Tonka toys,
    are made just for you!”
    -from a TV commercial

      1. Yah, modern music be like …

        “No, no, NO! You have to get all the rhymes on the same line!!!… you can have all sorts of inconsequential rambling before and after but then you have to do like, “C’mon boys, make some noise, for the toys, you enjoys, take a poise, or annoys, the ‘rents, then deploys, your cunning plan.” in the middle.”

      1. A bit off topic, but since you mentioned the name, the Minnetonka did exist as a very large steamship that was built along with two sister ships, the Minneapolis and Minnehaha, in the very early 1900s. A fourth ship was to be the SS Minnewaska but funding ran out in 1901 so her superstructure was sold to the White Star Line who then renamed her the SS Arabic. All four ships were sunk by German U-boats during World War 1 with a great loss of life.

  3. My brother had the newer version of one of these, got it for his birthday after he tired of playing with my rusty old one from the 80s. One day he comes home in tears (He was 5 or 6 at the time) with his poor Tonka truck, smashed flat as a pancake. Neighbor kids thought it would be fun to drop a giant rock on it. I carefully took it apart, hammered everything back out as best I could, and put it back together. Didn’t look new, but was more than able to be played with since it’d roll and dump again. Brother thought I was a superhero after that.

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