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Hess-O-Mania
by Bob Brooke


Hess Toy Truck collectors go to any length to find just the right truck. Not just any truck, but that special truckĖperfect paint, perfect tires, and, most importantly, a perfect box. Thatís right, a perfect box. To them, itís a quest.

Starting in 1964, the Hess Company wanted to thank their loyal customers by making small replicas of their trucks as a token of appreciation for their business throughout the year.

The first tanker truck originally sold for $1.39 in 1964 and today sells for nearly $2,500.

Hess Toy Trucks are typically released a few weeks before Thanksgiving at over 700 Hess gas stations throughout the East Coast. Large posters, hung in the Hess Station windows, announce the on-sale date and feature a drawing of the truck.

On the first day of the sale, collectors, as well as friends and relatives of collectors begin pushing, bribing and shoving in a line that begins to form early awaiting the Noon start of the sale. Each year Hess makes a different truck. They are so collectible that if collectors arenít fast enough, the trucks can be sold out within a few days. This year, the trucks, selling for $19.95, went on sale on November 16, with a limit of two per customer.

As the story goes. Leon Hess, owner of the company, turned to talk to a man sitting behind him at a New York Jets football gameĖHess also owned the Jets. He told the man about a tanker truck that he wanted to sell through his stations as a reward to his customers and, of course, as a nice piece of product advertising.

Hess was the first company to manufacture trucks that have working lights and sound. Originally, Louis Marx and Company manufactured the trucks in Hong Kong, at least until they stopped making them in 1970. Since then, the trucks have been made by an unknown company first in Hong Kong, and, since 1987, in China. It takes three years for the product, from its original conception, to reach the gas station shelves.

Hess insisted that the trucks be correct in every detail, including the paint colors. Originally, they came in dark green and yellow with white trim. But when the Hess Oil and Chemical Company merged with Amerada to become the Amerada Hess Corporation, the livery changed to white with green trim. Nonetheless, the trucks are of excellent quality. The later trucks also came wonderfully equipped, offering lots of interactions for the children who received them as Christmas presents.

Hess truck 1980.More than half the value of each truck depends on the condition of its box. If the truck, itself, is also in perfect condition, then itís considered to be "MIB" or Mint-in-Box. This means the box must have no tears, no marks, and no dented corners. Inside the box is a long piece of white cardboard that holds the truck in place. This cardboard piece has to be in mint condition, also. There were also instructions printed on a small card found neatly tucked alongside the truck or on the bottom of the box.

The first truck in the Hess Toy Truck line, modeled after a Mack B-61 tanker, came in dark green, yellow and white plastic. This truck has a very unique feature not found in any of the other Hess trucks. It came with a funnel to fill the truck with water so a child could spray water out of the attached delivery hose. This model is smaller than the other semi-tanker trucks in the series, measuring just over 12 inches from bumper to bumper. The truck has head and tail lights which a child can operate by a switch at the rear of the cab. The two-piece box, colored green, white and yellow, features refinery and service station scenes. The bottom half of the box is solid green. The package also includes a detailed instruction card. This truck has become a very rare, sought-after collectible. A mint condition truck and box today can be worth up to $2,500. Hess issued the identical truck in 1965.

Hess Oil Co. tanker.One of the most unique Hess Toy Trucks is actually a replica of an the actual Hess Oil tanker ship Voyager. As the only ship in the Hess toy line, this 1966 model has become very popular with serious collectors. It has a white bow and stern light, and red and green port and starboard lights. This is the longest of all the Hess toys measuring 18 inches. One problem with this toy is it has many little pieces--anchors, flags, radar, masts, propellers--which can easily be broken. This makes a truly "Mint" Voyager Ship a very rare and extremely valuable piece. It came with one of the more colorful boxes, featuring a multitude of pictures including refinery, service station, and home delivery scenes. However, the box sports a misleading statement--"Made in USA"-- but the toy was actually made in Hong Kong. It comes with an instruction card which is colored in the same blue as the box bottom. Not until 1995 did Hess add another item that wasn't a truck. When it was new, the Voyager sold for $1.89 and now 32 years later a mint ship can bring up to $2,400.

Hess toy truck 1967.One of the hardest to find in mint condition is the 1967 truck This truck is the only one in the Hess series of holiday toys that came with a display base. Collectors refer to this truck as the "Red Velvet" because of its attractive red velvet base. A split-window tractor with a fuel oil tanker, it comes with a removable hose but cannot be filled with water like the 1964/5 edition. A sign on the passenger side reads "FUEL OILS," and one on the driverís side reads "GASOLINE." The Hess Company logo is on the back and rear sides of the trailer, as well as on the cab doors. Colored mostly dark green, with white, red, and yellow accents, it has working head and tail lights operated by a switch on the underside of the tanker. It came with a card which states, "The battery is already installed for you convenience." However, the box isnít as colorful as the 1964/5 or the 1966 editions and has pictures of the truck and Hess service stations.

The above truck is also harder to find in mint condition due to the boxís red velvet bottom. Collectors find this to be a really desirable piece since it was a complete new design for the truck, now featuring a split window. Itís also one of the rarest in the line. When it was new, it sold for $1.99 and now commands a price tag of about $1,500.

The Hess fire truck of 1970.The 1970 Pumper, the first fire truck in the line, came with a detachable two-piece ladder that hung on the truckís side and two rubber hoses. Bright red with lots of chrome, it was a replica of an actual fire truck used at the Hess refinery in Port Reading, New Jersey. Unlike the other trucks in the series, this fire truck had only one light--a red emergency light that rotated on the top of the cab. A small battery-operated electric motor rotated the light. With the exception of the helicopter on the 1995 truck, this is the only Hess truck to have used such a motor. A swiveling water cannon sits atop the truck. And unlike the 1986 and1989 fire trucks, this one wasnít a bank. The box featured pictures of the truck and comes with an instruction card.

This is one of the last toys to be produced by Louis Marx and Company. There was also a 1970 USA pumper. The 1971 Pumper was the same as the 1970, but a "CAUTION" sticker was put on the top of the box. Another variation of this truck occurred when the manufacturing company ran out of the traditional silk screened boxes and shipped the truck in a plain white box with "SEASONíS GREETINGS" on it. When it was new it sold for $1.69 and now can bring up to $700, and with the 1971 "CAUTIONí sticker, about $800. However, the "SEASONíS GREETINGS" truck can bring up to $3500.

The year 1975 brought with it another newly designed truck and box. This box-type tractor trailer featured sliding doors on its sides which opened to reveal three Hess fuel barrels. As the first box type truck in the Hess series, its cab was similar to the previous trucks but had a one-piece windshield instead of the split one found on earlier models. Sliding the door at the front of the trailer reveals the battery compartment disguised inside a crate. The sliding side door at the rear of the trailer reveals the oil drums. These drums didnít come with Hess labels like the 1976 and 1987 models. The pair of doors on the rear of the trailer also open. The truck has working head and tail lights operated by a switch on the bottom of the trailer. The box sides display the corresponding front, rear, and side views of the truck. The top of the box has a picture of a Hess gas station. The box top lifts up to reveal the truck. It comes with a battery installation instruction card and a top and bottom cardboard insert to protect the truck.

The most common 1975 truck was made in Hong Kong, but thereís a variation of this truck that was made in the USA, but only 20-40 of these trucks have ever been accounted for. That makes the USA-made barrel truck extremely rare. The truck sold new for $1.99. Now the common truck brings around $400 while the USA-made truck brings up to $3,500.

Hess toy truck 1982. The 1980 truck was an escape from the traditional truck. Modeled after an actual van that Hess used to conduct training seminars at Hess service stations, itís a 12-inch, white GMC RV with green accents. The side door actually opens and the TV antenna on top pops up. It has chrome bumpers, side mirrors, hubcaps, and wipers. It has working head and tail lights operated by a switch on the bottom. The Hess logos on each side also light up. It also has marker lights on the top, but they donít light up. One thing about this truck that confuses people is that itíis dated 1978 on the bottom, but this truck was definitely only issued in 1980. The box is the first one piece box in the Hess series, meaning that the truck slides out the side end flap opening, instead of being lifted out. The box is mostly green with an image of the truck on each of its four sides. The top of the box features the Hess logo and "TRAINING VAN" in big, bright yellow and white lettering. When new this sold for $3.29 and now brings over $300.

In 1984, the Amerada Hess Corporation began producing tanker truck banks. While they are similar to the 1977 and 1978 models, they feature a coin slot at the top rear section of the tanker. Another big difference was there were no longer decals on the truck, so collectors didnít have to worry about them peeling off. The words "HESS", "GASOLINE", and "FUEL OILS" were now molded into the plastic. The box is now the one piece variety where the truck slides out the end flaps. On the (2) end flaps it has the front & rear view of the truck. On one side it has a picture of the truck setting among some city buildings, on the other it just shows the truck with a hand placing a coin in the coin slot. The top as the Hess logo and "Toy Truck Bank". The bottom contains instructions for battery installation and bank compartment instructions

In 1987, Hess issued a totally new truck from the design to the colors. The company replaced the traditional white, green and yellow with white and green, matching the color scheme of their service stations. This box truck features three green Hess barrels inside. In addition the operating head and tail lights, this truck has operating running lights on the front and rear of the trailer and marker lights on the top of the cab. The truck is also a bank, featuring a coin slot on the top rear of the trailer and a door on the back which opens up with the turn of a red knob to retrieve the coins.

The two sides of the box feature the truck parked in a winter wonderland next to a frozen pond with ice skaters and a lighted Christmas tree. The end flaps contain front and rear views of the truck and the bottom contains battery installation and bank compartment instructions. Amerada Hess had approximately one million of these trucks made, compared to the 150,000 run of the 1964 truck.. About 90 percent were made in Hong Kong while the remaining 10 percent were made in China, which makes the China version worth more. The two versions are identical except for the "made in..." designations on the battery door and box flap. There were also a small number of "smooth coat" trucks where the chrome door step is smooth rather than the diamond pattern. These are also worth more than the regular version. The serious Hess truck collectors like to have all three versions of this truck.

The first race car carrier appeared in 1988, giving children two toys for the price of one. The cab design on this truck changed, replacing the spoiler on top with an air conditioner compressor. The trailer carries a Formula style friction powered race car which also includes the date on it's license plate. The car does not have any working lights, but the truck has a switch on the bottom that operates working head and tail lights as well as running lights on the trailer and marker lights on the top of the cab. The truck is about 12" long and the car is about 5" long. The box features the truck parked next to a Hess gas station with Christmas trees and mountains in the background. The bottom contains battery installation instructions and race car operation instructions. Hess did something this year that they should have done from the beginning. They added the year to the license plate of their trucks. When new this truck sold for $6.95 and now sells for about $70. Thereís also a Chinese version of this truck which sells for $60.

With the exception of the 1966 Hess Voyager Tanker ship, the 1993 Hess Patrol Car represents the only other time that a Hess toy wasnít a truck. This patrol car has two switches on the bottom. One turns on all of the lights. The other is a four-position switch. The first position starts the lights flashing. The second activates the first siren. And the third position activates the second siren. Although not as detailed as other Hess toys, the flashing lights and sirens make it a great toy for children. The box contains pictures of the patrol car parked next to a Hess gas station and includes instructions on the bottom. Over the years the company has also manufactured short run "special vehicles" to commemorate special events or products, giving them as gifts to employees and station owners. These have become extremely valuable and are rarely offered for sale.

Hess toy truck 1987.The Split-Window Amerada Hess Tanker, issued in 1969, is one of those trucks. As one of the rarest trucks in the Hess collection, Hess gave it to their employees to announce the new company name. In 1969 the Hess Oil and Chemical Corporation merged with Amerada Petroleum Corporation. The new name became the Amerada Hess Corporation with the Hess Oil and Chemical Company becoming a division. This truck is identical to the 1968/9 version with the exception of the decals on the side of the trailer. "FUEL OILS" and "GASOLINE" moved from the front to the rear side of the tank, and "AMERADA HESS" is on the front side of the tank. Also, the Hess logos on the cab doors were removed. The pictures on the box changed to reflect the new truck.

The 1993 model, a limited edition truck given as a gift to bulk Premium Diesel customers and friends of Leon Hess, also wasnít available to the general public. Itís the same truck as the 1990 Hess semi-tanker with the graphics changed. For the lucky few that received one of these, it came in a green gift wrapped box with a separate gift card. Hess produced only about 10,000 of these, making them very valuable. The box contains a picture of the truck with a Hess refinery in the background.

To read more articles by Bob Brooke, please visit his Web site.

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