Some of us never grow up. For some, that is not a good thing, but for Richard Arbiso of Upland, CA, it helped him to create an amazing collection of toy Tonka trucks. Richard fell in love with trucks riding with his dad Edward in his fertilizer truck every chance he got. His mom Gloria made sure that her boys had plenty of Tonka toys to play with in the back yard, and Richard’s favorites were his dump truck and sand loader – a precursor to what would lead to his dirt-hauling driving career that he still does (and loves) today.
Gloria, Richard’s mom, taught her boys life skills and responsibility. They had to make their bed, brush their teeth, wash their face, and do their chores before they could go outside and play in the yard. She taught them how to cook, wash clothes, sew, and help keep the house clean. She was strict and would cut a switch if necessary, but she played no favorites with her five boys. His dad taught him his hard work ethic.
Richard fondly remembers all the time he spent out in the back yard under the trees playing in the sand with the Tonka toys, and would even bring them in at night, clean them up, and then “park” them under his bed.
The beginnings of the Tonka toy company is an interesting story. They were the brainchild of Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse, and Alvin F. Tesch in 1946. The company’s original name was Mound Metalcraft (based in Mound, MN). They began making metal tie racks before Tesch tinkered with some old toy concepts left by the building’s previous tenants. They dubbed the toys “Tanka” which means “big” in Dakota Sioux tongue. The tie racks didn’t take off, but the toy trucks did, and in 1955 the company changed its name to Tonka Toys Incorporated. The trucks were and still are, for the most part, construction themed.
In 2001, the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY inducted Tonka trucks into the hall. This toy inspired many, including Richard, to get into trucking. The jingle says it all: “I love dumpin, I love digging, I love haulin, I love liftin. I love dirt and rocks and sand and mud and muck. I love my Tonka! Man, I love my truck!!”
One day Richard brought a truck to the dairy and then left it in the corral. His dad accidentally ran over it, crushing the cab. This was just before Christmas and his mom and dad made sure that he got a wrecker under the tree. Richard used that tow truck to pull his “wrecked” truck around the back yard!
In 1995 a car crossed the center line and crashed into Richard’s transfer dump head on. After the accident, he had to find something to do with his time during the six months of recovery. He went to his dad’s and dug in an old barrel and got out several of his old Tonka toys and began restoring them. That lead to him starting a collection that has taken on a life of its own, with shelves full of little boy’s memories of playing outside in the dirt.
His wife Deborah tolerates a lot and helps a little with his passion. She built some shelves inside for his prized toys, but she drew a line when they began taking over too much space inside the house, so some have since found homes on shelves in the garage. Richard’s favorites are some of his first ones, including a copper 1959 Tonka stake bed truck and trailer and, of course, the dump truck, sand loader, and wrecker.
There is an entire community of people who love acquiring and restoring these old toys. Antique stores are a great source for old toys, and Richard has found a place that deals in reproduction parts. E-bay is his best friend! He can buy or sell toys from all over the country, but he does a lot more buying these days than selling, as he loves the toys in his collection and there are very few that he is willing to part with. Many of the toys, especially from back east, are rusty from the weather and from their time spent outside in sandboxes and working in the dirt with little boys.
Another passion that Richard has is old cars – he owns a ‘55 Chevy 210 Sedan with a 327 dual quad and a 4-speed. He still enjoys taking it to local shows and cruises and, years ago, Debbie would make her own 50s style outfits and go to the shows with him. She was a hit, as well as those old cars, in the beautiful outfits she wore. Donning heels, hat, and gloves, there were lots of requests for her to pose in front of other cars at the show. Many of the shows they went to back then are no longer held.
Passing his passion for cars and old toys on to his 4-year-old grandson Bradley, Richard says he already has a Lightning McQueen electric car that he drives pretty good, for only being four. The couple times he’s got to drive it at Popa’s house, they had to clean it up and wax it before taking it out for a spin. When Bradley got home, he told his parents he had to get the wax with the red hot rod on the label (that would be the Lucas Slick Mist Speed Wax in the blue bottle). He gets to play with the old toys when he’s at Popa’s house, too. Richard hasn’t grown up, when it comes to playing with his toy trucks, either.
In everyday life, Richard drives a transfer dump in Southern California and has been doing that for over 30 years. Back in November 1998, Richard was the driver of a dark green Pete transfer with lime green and yellow stripes, owned by Robert Ford, that was featured on our cover. Richard was a big part of that story and, since then, he has been considered a member of the 10-4 family. So, this brings it all full circle. The majority of Richard’s career has been hauling rock and sand like he did when he was a little boy in the back yard at home and, truth be told, he’s still just a kid at heart, playing in the dirt!