Trucks at Work

A toy truck tradition continues

When Christmastime comes around, kids are usually eagerly focused on what toys Santa Claus might bring and place under the Christmas tree.

Thus it’s an appropriate time to tip the hat in recognition of a toy truck tradition that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year: the Hess toy truck, long associated with the dark olive-green tanker tractor-trailers used for so many decades to haul the oil refined by the global petroleum conglomerate Leon Hess founded with little fanfare back in 1933.

Yet the toy truck is also undergoing something of a transition, too, as by 2015 it will no longer available for purchase at Hess filling stations – of which there remain some 1,360 scattered across 16 states, largely in states along the Eastern seaboard of the U.S – but rather exclusively online, the company noted.

Justin Mayer general manager of Hess Toy Truck, told me by phone that the Hess toy truck still "remains an iconic tradition and I know a lot of people shake their head at that. But believe it or not, the demand for the toys remains huge – it amazes everyone how fast they sell out.”

He added that they also remain collector’s items with folks listing them on the Internet with a price as high as $300 per toy truck, depending on the year and condition.

Yet that also harkens back to the quality Leon Hess envisioned when his company first introduced its toy trucks back in 1964. [To view more photos, click here.]

“Growing up in the Great Depression, he wanted to offer a quality toy at an affordable price,” Mayer noted.

“By happenstance he struck up a conversation with fellow fan at an NFL football game who happened to be a toy manufacturer,” he said. From there, Hess and the toy maker worked on a toy tanker truck that had working lights, would come with batteries included, and with a tank that could be filled with water and drained like a real fuel hauling vehicle.

Deemed a bargain by buyers at $1.25 for that original 1964 toy truck, the sell-outs began swiftly and would occur without fail when each year a new model went on sale before Thanksgiving.

“Lines would form up at the gas stations," he said. "It’s an item that’s remained popular over a long time span.”

He noted that Hess originally focused its toys on the trucks and other transportation equipment used within its operations: that including ocean-going oil tankers, fire trucks, even a training van the company developed in the 1980s.

By the late 1980s, though, Hess branched out its toy creation mantra to include such vehicles as police cars, space shuttles and the like. That’s one reason why the 50th anniversary vehicle is a unique “hauling truck” that carries a supersonic jet fighter on its back.

The company also put a “mobile museum” of sorts on the road this year to show off the many iterations of Hess toy trucks down through the decades – a thankful sign that this small piece of trucking history will be well preserved for generations yet to come to enjoy as well.

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