Tonka Pickup Restoration Page 3

Step 12-Refinishing

Remove all of the old paint and rust from the metal parts. I invested in a small blasting cabinet since I already had an air compressor hangin' around the garage. Check with friends, neighbors, maybe even at work. Many maintenance departments or tool rooms have this equipment available. Clean every last piece of old paint and rust from the parts, inside and out. Don't forget the axles you could not clean in STEP 8. Follow all safety precautions when using sand or media blasting equipment. Protect yourself.

After your metal parts have been stripped of all paint and rust, wash your parts. I use a stiff long bristle brush and a cleaner degreaser like 409. Make sure you remove any sand or media that managed to lodge itself in the cracks and crevices where the chassis mates to the pickup bed and where the rear fenders mate to the pickup bed and chassis. Not only am I removing the sand, I am also cleaning the part of any substance that would prevent the primer I will apply next, from adhering. I don't want to take a chance that any protectant, wax or like residue is left on the metal part. Thoroughly rinse in clean water. Let your parts dry completely. I use my trusty air compressor to blow the water off the parts. A hair dryer also speeds the drying process up.

Prime your bare metal parts as soon as possible. I live in arid El Paso, Texas. I can leave bare metal parts unprotected for weeks without a problem. However, many restorers may not be so lucky. In a moist environment, bare metal will start to oxidize, translated as rust, immediately. I prefer to use Eastwood Self Etching Primer. This stuff works great and you don't have to sand before applying the color coat. However, you can find other metal primers at your favorite auto parts store. Follow directions for use. Follow all safety rules when using aerosol primers.

Tip Time for another tip. When I have to blast axles, I use another Eastwood product called Silver Cad. This aerosol lays down the look of cadmium plating and priming is not required prior to use. You may decide to use a "chrome like" aerosol paint found at your auto parts store. Follow the manufacture's directions for use.

It's finally time to add some color. If you are going to use aerosol paints from your local auto parts store, follow the manufacture's directions for use. (When the directions indicate "light coats", that's just what it means by the way.) Don't get carried away. Take your time. If your preparation up to this point has been flawless, why screw it up now? I try to paint all surfaces. Getting paint into the rear wheel wells can be a little tricky. No one will notice light coverage in the wheel well once the tire is in place. Besides, when that truck was brand spanking new, all "hidden surfaces" were not necessarily covered with paint, much less primer. You've heard this before, and it cannot be stressed enough, follow the manufacture's directions for use and follow all safety precautions. Before proceeding to the next step, let your parts dry completely and then some. Depending on the ambient air temperature, I have let parts dry for days.

Step 13-Putting It All Back Together - Before You Begin

First, prepare your reassembly work surface. To my wife's dismay, I do my reassembly on one of the kitchen counters. The area is free of potential damaging hazards and has plenty of light. I would use the workbench in the garage but I can't find it. It's buried. Anyway, I lay old bath towels on my work surface. They are soft and will not cause any damage to your newly painted truck components. Round up all of your parts, restored or new reproduction and your tools. Keep everything off of your towel except what you are working on.

Tip I place two layers of black electrical tape on each jaw of any pliers I use to facilitate reassembly of the truck. The tape prohibits the serrated jaws of the pliers from gouging the metal but still leaves enough bite to get the job done. You may have to change the layers a couple of times before your reassembly is complete. Don't take a chance on screwing up your truck. Check the taped surface of the jaws before each use.

Step 14-Reassemble the Cab Wrap & Roof

It's time to assemble the roof, windshield and cab wrap. It's a little more laborious on 1958 to 1964 models. Patience is a big plus. Put the tabs on the rear of the roof in the slots on the cab wrap. Put the front posts of the roof barely into their respective slots. DON'T PUSH ALL THE WAY DOWN YET.Place the tabs on the bottom of the windshield into their respective slots on the cab wrap. It takes just a little juggling here. You really need to try and keep the front roof posts and the tabs on the windshield in their respective slots with one hand before you begin the press everything home. Once all tabs and slots are aligned and the top of the windshield is aligned to go into place under the front of the roof, partially press the roof home. If all parts appear to be aligned, use your palm to firmly smack the roof into place.

If you have a 1965 - 1967 truck, assembly is not quite as tedious. Because the windshield, side and back "glass" are all one piece, alignment with the roof and the cab wrap is virtually automatic. Just make sure the front roof posts are partially in the slots before you smack into place.

Tip Clean the inside of the windshield now to remove any finger prints. It gets a little more difficult as assembly progresses.

Step 15-Reassemble the Cab Wrap & Roof to the Chassis

This step is not difficult. Align the slot on the back of the cab wrap with the tab on the chassis. Before you push the tab all the way into the slot, align the tabs on the front of the chassis with the slots on the front of the cab wrap. Again, there is just a little bit of juggling to get all tabs aligned and inserted into their respective slots. Using your needle nose pliers, bend the front tabs over. You should be able to totally flatten the tabs against the cab wrap. Now for the large tab at the back of the cab wrap. Remember, I mentioned in STEP 2 that sometimes this tab was bent over at the factory and sometimes not. I just leave mine straight. The cab will stay solidly in place with the tabs on the front of the chassis firmly bent over. Why fight it?

Step 16-Reattaching the Tailgate

First, make darn sure the electrical tape is in good shape on your needle nose. If you left the ears slightly bowed out, slide one end of the tailgate over the wire form (on '55 to '59). Working ever so carefully, slide the other end of the tailgate in place. Now, firmly grip the lower portion of the tailgate ears with the needle nose and straighten the ears. The tailgate should not fall off. Minor adjustments may also be needed to fit the slots at the top of the tailgate over the tabs on the rear of the pickup bed. On your 1960 - 1967 pickups, you will follow this same process except the tailgate affixes to a different location on the chassis. If your pickup has chains, don't put them on just yet. Minimize the risk of damaging your new paint finish.

Step 17-Time for the Tires

Now is the time to remove the excess protectant from your whitewalls and tires. If you have whitewalls, press the wheel cover into the whitewall. Set aside. Insert the axle through one tire and slide the partial assembly into the holes on the chassis. Put the other tire on the axle. I sure hope you read through this entire resto process first before you attempted it. Otherwise, you will need to tear down to the hardware store before you can go any further. You need a couple of "Tinnerman" style speed nuts with a 3/16 inch ID and no more than 17/32 inch OD. Click here to see an example. These things use friction to hold to the axle. I just use my fingers to press into place. Don't press on too far or the tires will not turn freely. Just barely capture the end of the axle. Too check, pull the tire against the nut a few times. The nut will stay in place if it securely captured the axle. I have never had a tire fall off. Using thumb pressure, press the whitewall/wheel cover assembly into the tire. Don't have whitewalls, using finger pressure, just press the wheel cover into the tire. That old Tonka should be starting to look pretty cool about now.

Tip If you had to junk the old tires and are using new reproduction, you may notice the axles appear to be too short to attach the Tinnerman speed nut. I have noticed on the back of most all reproduction tires, on the raised surface where the axle comes through, there are bubbles of excess material that affect the overall thickness of the tire and that, in turn, causes the axle to appear too short during reassembly. The cure is to lay a piece of 180 grit sandpaper on a flat surface and vigorously rub the raised center of the back of the new reproduction tire over the paper to remove the excess rubber. Do all new reproduction tires. You will decrease the overall tire thickness and that will allow you room for the Tinnerman nut.

Tip This tip is not required. For an additional layer of safety, after you have the Tinnerman nut securely attached, use a dab of RTV adhesive over the nut and axle end to insure the two do not separate.

Tip If you decided to use new reproduction tires, whitewalls and wheel covers, the parts will easily press fit together without using any sort of lubricant. You should still assemble the wheel cover to the whitewall before inserting the assembly into the tire. If you are using the blackwall tire, the wheel cover just about goes into place by itself.

Step 18-Now for the Grille and Front Bumper

1956 through 1961 trucks with separate grilles only require that you press the headlights through the grille and into the cab wrap. On models that have the one piece grille and front bumper, press the headlights into the grille. Time to rivet the front bumper or bumper/grille to the cab wrap. When I first began restoring Tonkas, I used aluminum pop rivets, 1/8" OD x 3/16" long . After popping into place, make sure the head of the rivet is smooth, no protruding metal. File if required. I filled the hole in the head of the rivet with glazing & spot putty I picked up at the auto parts store. Press into the hole in the head of the rivet and smooth. Let it dry thoroughly. If you used a little too much putty, carefully sand off the excess. If you still end up with a little dimple, add more putty, let dry and carefully sand smooth once again. The next step is to create what appears to be a solid headed rivet. Put a dab of silver or "chrome like" paint over the entire head of the rivet. After it dries, the rivet head will appear solid, just like the original.

Tip Originally, the rivet used was a 1/8" OD x 1/8" long tubular style, solid head type, that required a special piece of equipment at the factory to insert and roll the back of the rivet to hold it in place. There are modified C clamps available that will allow you to attach your grille with an OEM type tubular rivet for an authentic look. Watch for it on eBay. Some of the reproduction parts sellers offer like or similar rivet tools that manually do the job of the factory equipment. This is a great option and one that I now use on all of my restorations.

Step 19-Finishing Touches

Carefully attach your tailgate chains if you were restoring a 1955 through 1958 pickup. Affix your new door decals.

Tip Just in case you managed to get a little protectant from the whitewalls or tires on your truck's finish, especially on the doors where the decals go, Windex on a soft, clean cotton cloth will do the trick. Clean before you put the appropriate decals in place.

Step 20-Enjoy Your Accomplishment

Now doesn't that Tonka truck look great? It's ready to show off to family and friends and possibly be placed in a honored and highly visible position in the den or family room. So, do you have another Tonka pickup selected for your next restoration project?

One last note before I wrap the restoration process up. The presented process was initially documented on this website in 2000, as a low cost alternative to add new life to well loved Tonka pickups, based on my first few restorations I completed for my self satisfaction and enjoyment. Then I decided to sell some of my early restorations and realized that most of the market demanded what appeared to be a new truck. I needed to take my restorations to the next level visually. To accomplish this, I opted to forego any attempt to bring old parts back to life and use shiny new reproduction parts like the bumper, grille, wheel covers, chains, windshield, whitewalls and tires. Yes, the invested cost increased but the market (at least prior to the recession) was willing to pay for the perceived increase in quality.

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