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The Mystery of the Topper Toys Johnny Express Truck…

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Last week, the girls and I did something that we rarely do – we stopped at a garage sale. Truth be told, we actually turned around to go back to a garage sale we’d already passed, just because I’d spotted some big, old TONKA Trucks sitting out there. The sale was actually at a construction company, so it was pretty perfect that they’d have toy construction gear, but most of the TONKA stuff (some dating back to the 60s) was in pretty rough shape – except for one. With the sandbox in mind, the girls and I selected a completely working 1991 TONKA Mighty Crane that still has a lot of play left in it. As I put it in the trunk, the guy came over and pointed out the shell of an old Buddy L truck, and something I’d never seen before… a flatbed truck labeled “Johnny Express.” I wasn’t really interested at first, but when he showed me a box of parts for it, I figured it was worth a shot – again with the sandbox/outdoor play in mind. I had no idea I was purchasing a legend.

Turns out the Johnny Express Trucks were a big deal back in 1965, a creation of Topper Toys (a label of the Deluxe Reading Company of New Jersey) – the same folks behind the eventual Hot Wheels competitor, Johnny Lightning (which would launch in 1969). For some reason, Topper Toys was “Johnny” obsessed – slapping the name on everything from blasters (Johnny Seven OMA – One Man Army) to spacecraft (Johnny Spacemobile X-7) and everything in between.  Here’s what made kids want these way back when…

The Johnny Express was one of the first remote-controlled trucks of the day – a control box wired to the cab for a full range of play. When I learned of this, I hadn’t even turned ours over, but when I did – broken wires and no control box. Digging deeper, I found that there was a bunch of missing and/or broken pieces and that this really isn’t something to play with alongside my girls, but a potential treasure for someone who might be looking for it. Turns out there’s a pretty solid group of Johnny Express enthusiasts out there – folks that repair and restore these mighty trucks for play and collectibility. Even in its rough shape, our truck would make a nice display piece, but it would just be here in my office or garage, not with someone who may have had one of these the first time around. This could be restored on its own, or perhaps parts from this truck could be used to complete another project.

This morning, I took the Johnny Express outside and did a little “Toyography” with it in front of the house. Then I made note of what I knew were condition issues and listed the truck for sale on eBay.  It’s up for auction for the next ten days, and I’ll update this post to let you know the outcome.


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James Zahn
James Zahnhttps://www.therockfather.com
James Zahn aka The Rock Father is the founder and publisher of The Rock Father Magazine, and also serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, and Senior Editor of The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider. Zahn is an Illinois-based writer, media personality, commentator, director, actor, adventurer, raconteur, and overall pop culture and toy enthusiast. James is frequently called upon for expert commentary on the toy industry and has been seen on or quoted in Yahoo! Finance, CNN, FOX Business, MarketWatch, Forbes, NBC, ABC, CBS, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The NY Post, The Chicago Tribune, PopSugar, Fangoria, Starlog, and many more. He has been involved with business, entertainment, and media for more than 30 years, with a passion for music, film, retail, and publishing. Follow James on Twitter @TheRockFather. Email him: james@therockfather.com

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