Guttenberg's North Pole extension

In the fashion of a real-life elf from the North Pole, Jim Eglseder repaired and rebuilt four of the six trucks he donated to Shepherd of the Hills for their Christmas gift collection. This is the second year he has donated gifts from his own hands. (Press photo by Shelia Tomkins)


By Molly Moser

On Monday, Dec. 2, Jim Eglseder arrived at the office of The Press with an armful of Tonka Trucks. Like many, he offered the toys as a donation to Shepherd of the Hills Clothing Center and Crisis Fund, which is collecting Christmas gifts for children. But Eglseder’s donations are one-of-a-kind. They’re toys he’s brought back to life with his own two hands.

About three years ago, Eglseder began fixing broken or rusted Tonka Trucks. He and his wife, Kathy, just happened to stop at a garage sale in Communia, where he picked up two toy trucks, thinking he’d try to fix them. “From then on, whenever I got to a garage sale or flea market I’d look for them,” he says.

For that first dump truck, Egl-seder made a wooden piece to replace a missing part. Since then, he has replaced dozens of sets of wheels and windshields, mixing and matching from his tub of spare parts. He frequents toy shows, where he can pick up Tonka toys either for refurbishment or for parts. 

Eglseder has completely rebuilt several heirloom toys for friends and family who want to pass their childhood toys down to their children or grandchildren. “My son-in-law had a Tonka pickup with a camper when he was a kid,” explains Eglseder. He fixed up the toy and gave it to his granddaughter, who now gets to play with her father’s toy.

Eglseder’s 10-year-old granddaughter has been the fortunate recipient of other gifts from her talented grandpa. Though she prefers Barbie dolls over trucks and tractors, she appreciated a pink Tonka International Scout, perfect for a doll to drive.

Many of the toys Eglseder finds are coated with rust and require repainting. He uses a special chemical for stripping that is safe for use with bare hands, then he leaves the toys in a plastic bag to soak for three to four days. Afterward, he uses a wire brush wheel to remove any remaining paint and then sands the surface.

Over the years, he’s found that Krylon Fusion Paint works best on the combination of metal and plastic parts that make up Tonka toys. He’s also landed on a complex process involving a scanner, a printer, packing tape, and double-sided carpet tape for duplicating decals that he can’t find elsewhere. 

“I’ve had quite a few repeats, so now I’m trying to find something different,” says Eglseder. He’s refinished dozens of dump trucks, fire trucks, cement mixers, semis, and he’s got dozens more in the queue. He built a distinctive log truck from the ground up, using spare parts and filling the bed with logs made from dowels. “I had the parts, and I’d never seen one, so I built my own,” he says. 

Eglseder has been retired for nearly a decade from his 34-year career at John Deere, but his work there didn’t influence his current hobby. “Just when I saw those first two trucks, I guess you could say I was hooked.” He explains with a smile, “It’s almost been blown out of proportion.”

Tonka construction equipment lines the shelves of the basement in Eglseder’s Guttenberg home, where he works on his projects. In the spirit of giving (and in the tradition of Santa’s elves), the toys fixed in Eglseder’s workshop will bring smiles to the faces of deserving children this Christmas.

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