Hess Toy Trucks: The Holiday Season Begins

These were the perfect mixture of child entertainment and corporate branding.  Every year, the snows of November would signal a special treat at your local Hess gas stations, including the many Hess stations that still populate the Capital District.  From 1964, and continuing uninterrupted to today, the holiday season for us kids didn’t really begin until someone  brought home a brand new Hess toy truck, still in its box and still with a set of fully-charged batteries.

Let me tell you – it was a fantastic toy.  It still is.  Collectors will pay a good four figures for early Hess toy trucks – especially the 1964 Mack B tanker truck, the 1966 Amerada tanker boat, and the 1980 on-site training van.  And the ones that are not 100% mint – well, those beat-to-pieces trucks contain valuable hard-to-replace parts that can be harvested as replacement parts for nearly-mint Hess Trucks.

Hess Toy Truck advertisement from 1964.
Hess Toy Truck advertisement from 1964.

In fact, here’s an original advertisement, as found in a December edition of the Knickerbocker News, touting the new Hess toy tanker truck. The cost in 1964 for this little treasure, including batteries?  Only $1.39.  If you saved this truck – along with the original box and the cardboard inserts – a collector of Hess Toy Trucks would pay up to $1,500 for a near-mint edition.

And this advertisement lists all the Hess gasoline stations throughout the Capital District, and if I had enough time to double-check, I would imagine many of those stations are still in their original locations today.  Doubtful that they have any of these 1964 units in their back storage area, but you never know…

I’ve written several articles on the history of Hess Toy Trucks, including pieces for RoadKing, Toy Collector Magazine and the Journal of Antiques & Collectibles.  I bought a few Hess toy trucks over the years, and eventually sold them when I decided that there was no way I could collect them.  But every year, around this time, the call of the batteries-included rolling stock beckons me once again.

The trucks themselves have spawned various other petroliana souvenir collectibles, including toy trucks sold by such companies as Mobil, Sunoco, and the like.  Texaco used to sell a series of die-cast biplanes under the banner “Wings of Texaco,” and they are very collectible.

A true story now.  While working on an article for RoadKing on the history of Hess toy trucks, I needed to get photographs of these rare toys.  So I searched on the Internet and looked for Hess collectors that were within driving distance.

I found one such collector – not only does he collect Hess toy trucks, he also repairs and restores them.  For me, it meant a trip to South Central Pennsylvania, near the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area.

What he didn’t tell me was that he lived on a road that was probably last paved in 1943.  I turned onto the road – which by the way was barely one lane wide – and watched as my Pontiac 6000 went into one ditch and out, then into another ditch and out, with my mind gingerly calculating the alignment bill in my future.

1964 Mack B Hess Toy Truck, with funnel and inserts.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
1964 Mack B Hess Toy Truck, with funnel and inserts. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Still, it was worth it to see what an original 1964 Mack B Hess toy truck looked like, just as it came out of the box 45 years ago.  This is what you got for $1.39 back in the day.  This unit had a rubber hose so that you could fill the tanker with water (by using the red funnel, at lower left of the picture) and pretend to “pump” your toy cars full of gasoline.

Over the next 45 years, Hess built dozens of different vehicles – some based on real vehicles at the company’s New Jersey-based refinery, others based on fantasy pieces (a Hess hauler with an attached Space Shuttle, for example).

On October 30, 2009, Hess will introduce its 45th anniversary vehicle.

I can’t wait to see it.  And I kinda wish I was still a kid, so I could buy one and play with it again.

But instead, I have to act like an adult.  So I’ll buy one… and then donate it to Toys for Tots or Secret Santa or one of those organizations.