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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Tracing history of Minn.'s Tonka Toys

  • On June 15, the historical society will officially open the Tonka Toy Museum on the top floor of the Mound City Hall, within sight of the factory where the toys were built.
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  • The home on the corner lot has a two car garage — and a 500-vehicle basement.
    Lloyd Laumann will be the single largest contributor to a Tonka toy museum set to open next month in Mound.
    Laumann's fascination with the metal toy trucks started as a young man, when he was hired fresh from high school in 1955 to work the assembly line at the Mound Metalcraft Company.
    "Their original intent was to manufacture garden and closet accessories," explained Laumann. The company's founders, Lynn Baker, Avery Crounse and Alvin Tesch, turned out necktie valets and other forgettable metal items in an old Mound school building. Then in 1947 they stumbled on a product line that would make their business famous, KARE-TV reported (http://kare11.tv/12FH0YJ).
    Baker, Crounse and Tesch purchased from another company the designs and stamping dies for two metal toys, a crane and a steam shovel.
    They made some improvements and branded them Tonka Toys, complete with an oval logo featuring waves from Lake Minnetonka.
    Those two toys, in a sense, dug the foundation for a company that would grow to 2000 employees, in a factory that stretched a third of a mile.
    Within a few years Mound would call itself the truck capital of the world, with annual toy vehicle production peaking between 13 and 16 million. "Detroit, move over for Mound, Minnesota," one Tonka television ad proclaimed.
    Laumann's co-worker Charles Groschen made a practice of visiting local construction sites and fire departments to design toys that looked like the real thing, including a fire truck that came with a hydrant that children could connect to a garden hose. "The water would squirt about 30 feet," chuckled Laumann. "It was obviously an outdoor toy."
    1964 brought the most popular Tonka toy of them all — a sturdy yellow dump truck known as the Mighty Dump. "Every boy growing up in that era had a Mighty Dump. There are millions of those that have been made," said Laumann.
    Factory testing for the Tonka Mighty Dump included 400 miles on a conveyer belt. A memorable television ad showed an elephant supporting its front legs on a Mighty Dump. Made from automotive-grade steel, they were all but indestructible.
    Tough as the toys were built, Tonka is a Minnesota success story without a happy ending. Citing high taxes and labor costs, in 1982 Tonka announced it was moving manufacturing to Texas and Mexico.
    As VP of manufacturing, Laumann wrote the farewell in the company newsletter. He remembers a state of depression setting in around the factory. "Every day I'd walk through the plant and I'd wonder what's going to happen to this person or this person."
    Tonka headquarters remained in Minnesota, but in the years that followed the company took on too much debt purchasing Kenner Parker Toys, and was swallowed itself by Hasbro in 1991. Tonka's Minnesota headquarters was closed soon after.
    Page 2 of 2 - A few years ago, grown-up owners of Tonka toys began sending them to the Westonka Historical Society. Laumann began contributing too. The society dutifully placed the toys in storage.
    "We haven't had any place to display them," said Myers.
    That's about to change.
    On June 15, the historical society will officially open the Tonka Toy Museum on the top floor of the Mound City Hall, within sight of the factory where the toys were built. Rooms devoted to the Andrews Sisters and community history will also be included. Initially the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday.
    "We imagine this could be a destination, easily," said Myers.
    Laumann, who has already co-authored a Tonka Book, will be donating most of the rest of his collection to the museum.
    Consider it a tribute to the trucks that delivered both childhood dreams and endless summers of dirty knees.

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