Boomers Grew Up With the Hess Truck

The tradition of the annual Hess toy truck at Christmas is a ubiquitous promotion on TV these days, but its origin occurred in the boomer heydays. Hess started as a home heating oil delivery service in 1933, but has morphed into a worldwide crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company currently owned by Chevron.

For boomer children in certain states, the story begins in 1960 when Hess opened its first gas station in New Jersey. By 1964, Hess gas stations formed a regional chain spanning several eastern and midwestern states. That was the first year Hess offered a toy truck, and the tradition began. The original toy was a tanker that kids could fill with water. Through a hose attached to the tank, the water could be emptied — delivered — where the child wanted. The truck was sold exclusively at Hess gas stations. It was meant to be a replica of the type of tankers that Hess used to deliver fuel.

Eventually, the gas stations could be found in most states east of the Mississippi. The annual sale of a toy truck continued for 16 more years, with each year offering a different style of vehicle. Hess released a new truck each year, except for 1973, 1979 and 1981, when the Middle East oil embargoes interrupted the new truck releases. Up until 1979, the annual toy sale was only advertised in local newspapers and at Hess gas stations, but then the first TV commercial aired in 1980 (according to the company; others on YouTube claim to have uncovered TV commercials from the late 1970s). That is where the story gets interesting for boomers.

The Hess TV commercial from 1980 used a rock instrumental version of Deck the Halls. That soundtrack appears to have been used in Hess truck commercials throughout the 1980s, but Mister Boomer was able to discover a 1989 TV commercial that used an extended version of the jingle we hear on Hess truck commercials today. The distinctive TV commercial jingle intoning, The Hess truck’s back and it’s better than ever… is immediately identifiable by boomers. The song melody that became the basis for the commercial jingle is none other than My Boyfriend’s Back, made popular by The Angels in 1963! Hess has continued to use the jingle, including this year.

In 2014, Hess sold its gas station business to Marathon Petroleum. As a result, Hess stations were closed in 2015. However, the toy continues to be sold online at the Hess truck website. Boomers, who may have received a Hess truck when they were children, may have also continued the tradition with their children and grandchildren. Those longtime buyers will be happy to know that Hess continues to supply the batteries for the toys, the same as it has since 1964.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever receive a Hess truck as a gift? Did you ever purchase one for your own children or grandchildren?

Boomers Survived Christmas Toy Hazards

In the classic movie, A Christmas Story, the character Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas. His mother and father tell him he’ll shoot his eye out — and even on a visit to Santa, the jolly man himself chimed in with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Ralphie persisted and his father bought him the BB gun through his wife’s objections. Playing outside on Christmas Day, Ralphie does in fact almost shoot his eye out when a BB ricochets off his target to hit him in the cheek. But BB guns were hardly the least dangerous toys for boomers. In fact, in Mister Boomer’s view, hazards were more the rule than the exception.

Throughout the 1950s, ’60s and into the ’70s, boomer toys contained all manner of safety hazards, from projectiles that could shoot your eye out to small pieces that could be swallowed, and cuts and bruises potential that at the time seemed like part of everyday play. Mister B recalls receiving a cheaply-made bow and arrow, the arrows being tipped with suction cups. Of course, Brother Boomer immediately grabbed an arrow and pulled the suction cups off to reveal just the wooden tip. Though blunt, it certainly had the potential for damage if the shot was errant. The bow had a string that was more appropriate for a kite, but still, Brother Boomer launched arrows at Mister B that resulted in stinging body blows.

Mister Boomer remembers making slingshots with neighborhood kids, out of tree branches and old rubber bike inner tubes. Acorns and small rocks were the choice projectiles chosen to sling. Regardless of whether a toy was inherently hazardous, boomers could play with them in a such a way as to create a hazard. Mister Boomer recalls Brother Boomer and a cousin playing with Tonka trucks. Sitting on his aunt’s basement floor, each would roll a metal truck at the other as fast as they could possibly push it, the objective being a massive crash of toys and a metallic twang that seemed to be very satisfying to them. This was the late 1950s, and Tonka trucks were made of solid metal, so there was hardly any damage to the toys in the process. Fortunately, no metal pieces flew out from the intentional accidents. Can you imagine the same scenario a decade later, when the trucks were made of plastic, of the sharp pieces that could have broken off and gone flying?

One year, Mister Boomer’s sister got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. Though she did not experience any injury operating the appliance, other children did. The tiny light bulb inside got hot enough to bake a tiny cake, and hundreds of kids did burn their little fingers. It was pulled off the market in the ’70s, then retooled to add safety precautions, and came back in the ’80s.

Lawn darts have been around for centuries, but whoever thought giving kids a sharp metal spike with dart fins on it was a good idea never saw a boomer play. Lawn darts became popular under various names throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Mister Boomer’s cousins had the brand name game, Jarts, but rather than toss them like horseshoes into a plastic ring on the lawn, they took to throwing them like mini-javelins at each other. Fortunately, they did not get hurt in the process, but between 1978-86, more than 6,000 children ended up in emergency rooms, and two children were killed, by playing with this toy.

The classic hazardous toy in Mister Boomer’s mind has to be Mattel’s Creepy Crawlers (also sold as Thingmaker), introduced in 1964. It was a kit that came with metal molds and a liquid that, when heated, would produce a rubbery plastic model of a spider, snake or other insect (the creepy crawlers part). A child would attach the metal mold to the provided hot plate, plug it in, drop the goop into the mold and as the plate was heated to 390 degrees, watch the liquid coalesce into a bug. Boys and girls loved this toy! Mister Boomer’s sister loved this toy, and he recently learned his spouse did as well. After numerous injuries were reported, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, created in 1973, put the kibosh on it and Mattell discontinued manufacturing the product. They brought it back in 1978 after engineering some safety checks into it. Basically, the toy no longer provided the hot plate, so kids had to have mom and dad help them heat up the goop. Yeah, that idea went well. It quickly disappeared, but was revived by another company, Toymax, in 1992.

How about you, boomers? What was your favorite hazardous toy you received for Christmas?