There's nothing quite like the childhood allure of playing with vintage toys, and Buddy L. Trucks are one of these quintessential pieces of steel toy history. Produced by a company that had its roots in the agricultural and mechanical industry, these toy trucks were truly built to last. So, take a look at how the company and their eponymous toys became such covetable items for toy collectors today.
The Moline Pressed Steel Company and Buddy L. Trucks
Fred A. Lundhal founded the Moline Pressed Steel Company in East Moline, Illinois in 1910. He partnered with significant automotive and industrial manufacturers of the period and created things like fenders, door panels, and other auto parts for these companies' use. Interestingly, his foray into toy making occurred by pure happenstance when he crafted a toy truck out of the sheet metal lying around in his factory. Inspired by the International Harvester Company, which he was currently working on a contract for, he built a version of the international truck for his son, Arthur Brown (Buddy) Lundhal. Quickly, he made other pressed steel trucks and submitted them to the New York Toy Show in 1922, where they gained great acclaim. So, it made perfect sense in 1931 when Lundhal changed the company's name to Buddy L. Manufacturing Company in honor of his son, Buddy L. Unfortunately, these toys were decommissioned during World War II when pressed steel was largely unavailable, and the rise of plastics in the post-war period cemented the pressed steel toy's decline, but nearly a century later these toys have risen to become incredibly collectible.
Identifying Buddy L. Trucks
Buddy L. Trucks have a very robust, realistic appearance, often looking just like a miniature of a real industrial product. For example, the company created buses, concrete mixers, pump carts, shovels, fire trucks, dump trucks, trains, and so much more. One of the easiest ways to recognize a Buddy L. Truck is by the company's red logo, which appears in some fashion on the trucks themselves marking the company's name. These mid-size toys were all made out of metal, so they could have some signs of deterioration - like rust stains - which indicate their age and material. However, the quickest way to confirm your Buddy L. Truck is an authentic piece is to contact the Buddy L. Museum for a free toy appraisal.
Types of Buddy L. Trucks
Of the wide variety of trucks that the Buddy L. Manufacturing Company produced during its active years, some were decidedly more popular than others. Those with connections to popular consumer goods, public works organizations, and emergency personnel are thought to be the most sought after pieces by contemporary collectors.
This bright yellow Coca-Cola distribution truck was made out of pressed steel and appeared during the 1950s, when commercialism was on the rise and everyone was fixated on having the best that suburban life could offer. Currently, this specific vintage toy truck is worth about a $100 across the board, with one in fairly good condition recently selling for exactly $100.
While most people envision the brightest red hues when they think about a fire truck, the earliest Buddy L. fire trucks were actually more somberly painted. One early example from 1925 was painted a blueish-green color and was evaluated by Antiques Roadshow to be worth between $3,800-$5,200. Later, mid-century fire trucks were painted in the rich reds typically associated with fire stations and came equipped with long beds and tall ladders. These mid-century pieces are worth less than the earliest examples, such as this fire truck from the 1950s/1960s that was sold for $550.
As with the manufacturer's fire trucks, Buddy L. dump trucks are generally worth more if they come from the company's earliest production years. For example, a rare 1920s dump truck with black enamel and hydraulic lifting system is listed in one online auction for about $2,500. Less rare models can still bring in a couple of hundred dollars on average, such as this early 20th century dump truck that is estimated to be valued between $200-$300.
According to The Train Collectors Association, Buddy L. Manufacturing released its first full model railroad line in 1927. Within this railroad model were gondolas, flats, box cars, stock cars, wrecking cranes, steam shovels, and a red caboose to name but a few. Collectors consider train sets prior to the 1950s to be the most desirable and given the competitive nature of the model railroad collectors' market, individual pieces can be worth staggering amounts. For example, one seller has listed a gently used Outdoor Train 963 Locomotive for nearly $2,000.
The Buddy L. Toy Market
If you're toying with the idea of selling a genuine Buddy L. truck or train, be sure to examine your pieces's wear and tear. Mint or nearly mint models will bring the largest amounts at auction. Similarly, models from the 1920s and 1930s are more collectible and valuable based on their period in the company's history. While mid-century toys can be sold for up to a few hundred dollars, the best opportunities are with these older models.
Playtime Never Ends With Buddy L. Trucks
If the Buddy L. truck you found in your parent's attic isn't in the best condition to sell, that's perfectly all right; these toys were manufactured in a time where things were built to withstand serious wear and tear. If these pressed steel toys have made it into your 21st century hands, then they'll definitely survive a few rounds with your toddler or cousin down the street, so let them have a go at some good old fashioned fun.