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Buddy 'L' Toys

Buddy 'L' Toys Bring Big Bucks at Bertoia

By Rosemary McKittrick
BUDDY 'L' TOYS BRING BIG BUCKS AT BERTOIA "Tugboat;" red overall; railed cabin; decal on funnel; searchlight on pilots house; possibly the last survivor; 27 1/2 inches long; $30,800. Photo courtesy of Bertoia Auctions
How do you create a nation of automobile owners? Simple. You make toy cars for kids with moving parts and you wait for them to grow up.

The maker of the highly collectible Buddy “L” toy cars and trucks did just that in the 1921. The Moline Pressed Steel Company in East Moline, Ill., started out making regular automobile fenders and truck parts.

Then they branched out to sturdy toy trucks, cars, steam shovels, tugboats, passenger buses, ambulances and moving vans that had real working parts.

These incredibly fun vehicles became a rite of passage for the next generation of car and truck buyers.

Like a lot of inventions the Buddy “L” line started out simple. The company’s owner, Fred Lundhal, wanted to build a toy for his son Arthur that was new, unusual and tough.

He came up with an all-steel miniature truck, reportedly a model of an International Harvester. The kids in the neighborhood so loved Arthur’s truck they convinced their parents to have Lundhal make similar ones for them.

Being the good hearted dad he was, Lundhal designed and made 3 all-steel sample toys under the name Buddy “L”. The name came from his son who was known to neighborhood kids as Buddy "L". It was the kids’ way of distinguishing his son from another Buddy in the neighborhood.

Pleased with the outcome, Lundhal took his toys to the 1922 New York Toy Fair and received halfhearted interest. Toy buyers liked the size and quality but balked at the price.

Never one to be discouraged, Lundhal went ahead and launched the first large American pressed-steel toys anyway. Buddy “L” was born.

The toy business was so strong in 1923 Moline Pressed Steel stopped making full-size auto parts and focused on toys. By 1925 the toy line expanded to 20 items, including fire engines, tanker trucks, lumber trucks, and overhead cranes.

By 1926, very detailed and functional construction toys were introduced, including some of the most popular Buddy “L” toys manufactured. In 1930 the company’s name changed to Buddy "L" Manufacturing Company and the toys became even more realistic.

Buddy "L" was the leader in the manufacture of large pressed-steel toys up until World War II. Steel was unavailable during the war so a line of wooden cars and trucks took their place. After the war, Buddy L continued making toys but it was never the same. Plastic toys were on the rise and would ultimately take the place of these old pressed-steel beauties.

For many toy collectors it’s not really so much about collecting toys as it is about collecting their childhood.

Buddy “L” cars and trucks are jam-packed with nostalgia. No price seems too high when a toy possessing special significance comes up for sale.

Buddy “L” vehicles are also miniature examples of the technical level of our country over a period of time.

Plus, they’re just neat. Condition is everything. Early models in good original condition can fetch big prices.

On April 29 & 30, Bertoia auctions in Vineland, N.J., featured a selection of vintage Buddy “L” vehicles in its Toy auction. Here are some current values.

Buddy “L”

Passenger Bus; green; with opening doors and bench seating; decals appear on sides and visor; 28 1/2 inches long; $7,700.

Coal truck with doors; rubber tire version; black; includes chute; 25 inches long; $12,100.

Red Baby truck; cab with doors; red; international promotional truck; 23 1/2 inches long; $17,600.

Water Tower truck; rubber tire version; red with nickel water tower and original hose; 34 inches long; $19,800.

Tugboat; red overall; railed cabin; decal on funnel; searchlight on pilots house; extremely rare; possibly the last survivor; 27 1/2 inches long; $30,800.

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