True stories

 

In almost 60 years (1946/1947 till now) a lot can happen. Numerous people have been involved in the Tonka business and can tell stories about what Tonka ment for them or what they ment for Tonka. But let's not forget what tonka was all about: toys for kids. So, what are those real live stories .....

Please send your contribution to:

Info@TonkaClub.nl

Tonka, striving for perfection, the side effect … (dec 19 th, 2005)

When searching on eBay for a nice object to purchase I came along a story from Larry who, years ago worked at a toy store and had to destruct defective Tonka toys at the time. The reason appeared to be the quality policy of Tonka. So when I asked if I could publish his story, this was his reply:

 “ ... You may certainly use the story... it broke my heart to have to destroy the toys, I would plead for them to be given to needy children.. but unfortunately unscrupulous adults perverted the system for a few dollars, and cost many many children... countless children when you consider the scope that TONKA toys covered... the happiness that they were intended to give. Sadly, TONKA had no real alternative. They were at the mercy of the store owners that sent in the claims. All it took was a letter to TONKA on the letterhead of the store claiming so many toys were defective.. and TONKA would simply credit back the account... essentially giving away money with no chance of reclaiming it. A Bold and wonderful policy, and one that rested upon the honesty of the store owners themselves.

The toy store was a chain of stores owned by a local family that had locations in every mall in several cities, they eventually went out of business in part I am sure to the major chain toy stores which did in most of the local family businesses. I would hide undestroyed toys in the dumpster... usually more than 1 or 2 a month, and then go back after work and dig them out. I am ashamed to say that I was lavishly rewarded with the smiles and screams of delight that the kids who received to trucks would produce... and many a garden, or flowerbed was instantly transformed into a major earth moving project. I once gave a young boy 9 Tonka and Ertl vehicles, a complete road crew with dumptrucks, grader, frontloader, bulldozer, crane, earthmover.. the whole line and he saw them produced from 3 bags by myself and his Dad (we flew together as pilots) and he completely locked up... stopped breathing, couldn't talk.. if it had not been scary for 1-2 seconds it would have been hilarious.. and even over the dismayed sounds of his mother pleading for her petunias, the new Dam, or bridge, or highway of his imagination instantly was undertaken. would you please send your website address ? “

Larry

Universal City, Texas

United States

 

How it all started, as a Streater business (jan 16 th, 2006)  

By

Richard L. Streater,

Not everyday an opportunity knocks on your door as it did recently. While surfing at internet I came along an entrance of a guestbook at Sandys Vintage Tonka's ... The writer was no one else then a cousin of the 'founder' of Tonka Toys, R.L. Streater. After some email contacts he was happy to provide me with some personal experience and knowledge about E.C. Streater and the very first years of Tonka Toys. R.L. Streater (74 years) is a highly respected collector of fishing lures and author of: Fishing Lure Collector's Bible

So this is his story:

"OK........here we go with what I recall from what my dad told me about early Tonka.  Edward Streater was the son of L.E. Streater, who owned a chain of small rural retail lumber yeards in Minnesota. 

As an existing business, it served as a base for Edward's undertakings. Edward was a brilliant person with an entrepreneurial spirit. He did not see his future as a retail lumber yard owner. During WW II, he wanted to bid on a contract to build wooden ammo boxes. He set out to invent a machine to speed up the assembly of these boxes, it worked, and he was able to bid on and win contracts for these boxes. He was then able to buy things that were not available for those without war contracts. By making the boxes, he generated lots of scrap wood and sawdust. Again his creative mind pictured that he could make wooden toys during a time when metal toys were not available. I believe he made a wagon and a scooter.  

He showed samples to the buyer at the FIRESTONE Chain of stores and they gave him an order for several thousand.  I remember as a kid that my dad took me to the old school that was the birthplace of Tonka.  Down the basement , the old coal bins were filled with black tires made from the sawdust with black pigment and binders added. The early Tonkas were created by Edward and I recalled that my dad (R.C. Streater - younger brother of L.E. Streater) told me that Edward's experience with the New York Toy Show and the people involved with it, turned him off the toy business and was the incentive to sell the business to Mound Metalcraft.  He had already envisioned  his new undertaking..........making a line of store fixtures for retail stores. This became the highly successful  Streater Industries Store Fixture manufacturer. Their growth was accomplished by his concept of their sales force designing the layout of the store, then having the fixtures made for that store, and delivered on a large fleet of their own trucks and installed by Streater people. I hope this information is helpful.  It is the best that I can recall from listening to my dad as a kid."

Richard L. Streater,

Mercer Island, WA  (Age 74)

United States

 

 

Article at "Minnetonka Pilot Newspaper" february 13th, 1947  

 

Many thanks to Richard L. Streater

 

 

Article at "Minneapolis Sun. Tribune" november 22nd, 1953

 

Many thanks to Richard L. Streater

 

Photograph E.C. Streater (march 25th, 2006)

 

How do you get the face behind the name. 

Many thanks: Dan Hackmann from Streater Inc. (www.streater.com)

 

E.C. Streater (1963)

(Initiator of what later became Tonka Toys)

 

The finding of probably the oldest Streater Steam Shovel or at least another one … (april 7th, 2006)

 

And than it hits you ... you are probably looking at a very old wooden Streater Steam Shovel! Thank you eBay! 

When Tony (USA) wrote me on march 23rd, 2006 "I couldn't wait to show you the pride and joy of my Tonka collection." and showed me pictures of his mint in box Tonka B-202 Stock Farm Set made in 1957. I was prety impressed. But the real suprise came when he wrote a couple of day later that he saw the story of Edward Streater an thought he recognized a wooden Steam Shovel which is in his posession. When he compared it to the photograph of the wooden Streater Steam Shovel you see some times (sorry very seldom) appear he had to admit it was not the same one. 

"I found the toy in question. It was so long since I had seen it I really thought it was the same. I'm sending two pictures anyway cause I still don't have any idea about this toy. Thanks, Tony."

So the digging began because I did recognize some destinctive features. 

  • All its colors are identical to the known wooden Steam Shovels from Edward Streater. Blue basis, black boom and bucket, red cab. And don't forget the black wooden wheels.

  • Secondly, at the ending of 2005 on eBay someone offered a copy of the patent on eBay, It concerned a patent of a Steam Shovel. Applicant: Edward Streater. Look at the resemblance!!!

  • A third clue came from the true story of R.L.(Dick) Streater as found above. He mentioned that Edward Streater started his toy line with an order for Firestone. 

"He showed samples to the buyer at the FIRESTONE Chain of stores and they gave him an order for several thousand."    

If you look at the 'decall' beside the toy it says: "Tick Tock Toys, designed exclusively for Firestone."

  • The forth clue came from an eBay auction end march 2006. It concerned a wagon with wooden blocks. Also specialy designed for Firestone according to the 'decall'. Again the destictive red paint and black wooden wheels and the big resemblance of the 'decall' are important.

  • The final clue I found at the web site of Sandy Kohler, once a resident of Mound Minnesotta. At her web site she shows the following car, proclaiming to be from Edward Streater (as the stamp proves).

 

Again the colors light blue, red and black for the wooden wheels are used. But what is a destinctive mark is the white drawing at the side of the two playing kids. Look above at the wooden wagon with blocks and you'll find the same drawing. So Tick Tock was used by Streater for Firestone.

My guess is that we are looking at an other unknown early Streater wooden Steam Shovel.

During the search for the identity for this Steam Shovel I did found a kind of patern to get a feeling  about the sequence of when these Steam Shovels were issued. First Edward Streater used real wooden, black painted wheels. At the end he used wheels that used compressed wooden fibers, as mentioned by R.L. (Dick) Streater. These can also be found on the very very first Tonka #100 and #150.  So this could mean the following sequence:

The personal story of the Tesch family (October 2, 2006)

By: 

Venita Cronk (& Curtis Tesch) daughter & son of Alvin F. Tesch

The homepage of Sandy's Vintage Tonka's is a real inspiration. I came along an entrance in her guestbook of Venita Cronk who appears to be the daughter of Alvin F. Tesch (1915-2000) (the third gull at the Tonka decals). When I approached her and asked her if I could publish her story, this is what she replied:

"I certainly appreciate your interest. I've attached a document which captures some of my Tonka memories. Although they are mostly personal, I have no objection publishing them on the net if you think it would be of interest to others. I've run this by my brother to see if his recollections were any different than mine; he was satisfied that my memories are in concert with his." - Venita Cronk

In the beginning….

In 1946, our family (father Alvin, mother Louise, brother Curtis and me, Venita) moved from Minneapolis to a house on Lake Independence. That is the same year my father along with Avery Crounse and Lynn Baker became the founders of Mound Metalcraft. 

As I recall, Lynn Baker became aware of the possibility of acquiring a company from Ed Streator. He contacted Avery Crounse, Avery sought out Alvin Tesch. Each man had his specialty: Baker, sales; Crounse, financial; Tesch, engineering and production. Avery Crounse knew of Alvin’s talents from his association with Northern Pump, where Tesch was intimately involved with certain developments for the Navy during World War II.  

I was 4 years old, my brother just 1½. At that time, the north side of Lake Independence was sparsely populated with only a handful of families living there year around. Soon it was time for me to begin Kindergarten. My father was spending many long hours at the “plant”. We, as most folks in those days, had just one car. School bus service did not come very close to our house, so the decision was made that I attend school in Mound, which happened to be just across the street from Mound Metalcraft. 

I rode to school every morning with my father, sometimes very early. I went to the “plant” after school and amused myself until we could go home. (Personally, I think this plan worked out well for my mother. Dad couldn’t very well keep me there all night! Although he did go back many evenings.)  

I remember well being in the office of Mr. Crounse. He was a very tall man and to some looked kind of gruff. But he was a sweetheart. He let me play at his desk and amused me with stories. I recall one time when our family visited the Crounse home. I thought I’d walked into a fairy tale. The house had 3 stories and an elevator! Mrs. Crounse (Louise, like my mother) was a lovely, petite woman. She gifted me a small silver mesh purse which I still have.

I remember visiting the Baker home, also, a lovely home on Lake Minnetonka as I recall. Mrs. Baker (Florence) made a mean chocolate cake. I still have the recipe. Believe the children were Marilyn and Freddie. They were much older than my brother and me, I think probably high school. I remember Marilyn as very pretty and Freddie as very cute.

Back to the plant. There was an electrician (I think he was an electrician) there, Mac MacDonald. There was a little nook along the stairway that had a cot it in. Mac must have worked some odd hours as this was his place. I remember it being called “Mac’s cubbyhole”, and I remember napping there when the wait for Dad got too long. Mac used to wear a funny little cap, kind of like a painters hat.

By the time I got to third grade, the bus came closer to our house, and I was old enough to walk the short distance, so my days of riding with Dad ended. I was lucky to have those days. He worked such long hours; at least I had him all to myself for about an hour a day.

We weren’t allowed to wander the shop during working hours, but I do vividly remember the paint line. I just thought it was so neat to see all those cabs hanging naked on those little hooks, then coming out so bright and shiny after a dunk in the paint tank.

Occasionally my brother and I would be at the plant after hours. We had a good time pushing each other around on the big carts, at least until Dad caught us!

We also rarely got into the big office upstairs. By this time, Gordon Batdorf was on board, I believe as the accountant. I used to love sitting in his chair. It must have swiveled or something. I though Gordon’s wife, Connie, was very pretty.

I don’t remember much about Russ Wenkstern at the plant, but I do remember going to his daughter’s birthday party where we all dressed dolls which we could then take home. A nice memory.

One of the best perks for my brother was that he usually got the first off the line of all the new toys. He had quite a collection. Curt was, and still is, more interested in fishing, but he got plenty of use out of those toys. For a very short time, Tonka made doll beds. The first one was a white hospital bed with a headpiece which raised, just like a hospital bed. The second year it was blue. So I got a couple of Tonkas, too.  

The early years were pretty lean. I remember one holiday when Dad was bound and determined to provide dinner for all the employees. He brought home turkeys and asked my mother to prepare the dinner. Then they hauled it all over to Mound and served up a sit-down dinner on long tables which had been nicely decorated. It was a great time.  

The first one is of the dinner my Mom did for the plant. It is of the "head" table. On the right is Gordon Batdorf, Florence Baker, Lynn Baker. On the left, I'm not sure who the first two are, but the third one is my mother, and the little head peaking at the camera is my brother, Curt. 

The second picture is closer, and clearly shows (right to left) Gordon Batdorf, Florence Baker, Lynn Baker.

Although Dad’s primary responsibilities were at the plant, I do remember that he did go to one toy show in New York. As I recall, they were trying hard to demonstrate that they had an indestructible toy. Dad demonstrated when he stood on it with all of his about 230 pounds at the time.

Dad and Avery left the company in 1952. There was some philosophical conflict about the future of the toys. Avery had other fish to fry, and Dad was ready to try something new. He was the kind of man who liked the challenge of making something work, and when he succeeded he was ready to move on to another challenge. That was pretty much the way he spent the rest of his life.

Friendships remained from the Tonka days. One of the friendships that lasted the longest was with Ray Jeske. Ray came on the scene very early in the Tonka timeline. Dad used to tell me the order in which the early employees came on board. I don’t remember Ray’s number on the hire list, but he was number 1 in Dad’s book for a long time.

Another employee he spoke of and I remember was Myra Berge, (not sure of the last name spelling), the secretary.  She was a sweet person, and Dad thought very highly of her.

Venita Cronk (& Curtis Tesch)

Alvin F. Tesch after he left the company in 1952.  

"The first thing my parents did was to drop my brother and me with the grandparents and take a month long vacation to the Southwest and Mexico. First and last time they did something like that. They had a wonderful time. ....", Venita Cronk continues.

Alvin F. Tesch and her uncle (mother's brother) formed a well-drilling company which they ran successfully for several years. After the well company, he was considering options when a friend of his asked him to help him straighten out his machine shop. That was the beginning of several such positions. For a number of years he worked as a consultant for several different companies.

 Sadly his wife passed away in 1960; however, he remarried in 1963. Together they owned their own machine shop for several years but had to give it up due to her severe illness. They moved to Pequot Lakes to their lake home. His second wife passed away in 1974. Alvin F. Tesch went back to  consulting and continued well into his 70's. "

 "He hated to give up working, said it was the only thing he really wanted to do.", is how Venita Cronk describes briefly his passion for his work.

 Alvin F. Tesch passed away in Florida in December of 2000 at the age of 85.

 
 Many Thanks to Venita Cronk and Curtis Tesch for sharing this information.