This was in the 80s (although the truck may have originated from before then), when Tonka produced big construction vehicles, usually involving a large amount of metal. Send my (newly repainted) truck rolling down the sloping driveway and pity anything that got in its way. It was a monster. An indestructable monster that survives to this day. Although Tonka produced a number of other toys in its time, including dolls, this is how I - and many others - remember Tonka: producing big, chunky, strong and tough trucks.
In 1991 Tonka was bought by Hasbro and now HTI have licensed the brand to produce a new range of vehicles, figures and playsets called Tonka Town. They're not made of metal (what is these days?) but they retain their strong, tough roots and have expanded from construction to also include police and fire. To accompany the new line there's a website (www.tonkatown.com) and a Tonka Town magazine launching in mid-October - the first issue of which comes with a Tonka Town figure.
The fire station is the largest set in the range, costing just under £40. It's a 3-level playset, with garage, command centre and training tower. It's big and colourful and, having given it a reasonably good kicking for testing purposes, it seems to hold up to the strong & tough nature you'd expect from something branded 'Tonka'.
Out of the box, the fire station looks a little two dimensional, however the front extends forward which gives a large garage area. The ability to pushing it back in means that tidying the station away in a cupboard/under a bed etc is much easier - something a lot of playset designers forget about.
At the very top of the station is a command area. There's a large yellow button which activates lights and a VERY LOUD alarm. A smaller red button which works the same lights and an equally VERY LOUD siren. These sound for five seconds or so (it seems like far longer!) before turning off and are sure to annoy parents extremely quickly. Children, on the other hand, love these buttons.
The training tower features a pull-up 'flame', which when fully up lights up really nicely. However, to get the flame to click into place a reasonable amount of strength is required. The station is targeted to the 3-5 age range and while a 5 year old can do it, there's strain on his face as he does so ("This is hard to do," commented my 4 year old). A 3 year old is going to need help. At the side of the tower are a couple of ladders which detach and can be placed at various locations on the station.
There are two fire fighters included. These are nice little figures with simple but effective paintjobs. They're just the right size for small hands and pockets. A word of caution, however: the hands come off quite easily. The hands are made of a rubbery material and quite tricky to attach to, for example, the fireman's pole. Once on, there's a good chance that in trying to get the man off again you're going to leave the hand behind on the pole.
My favourite part of the set is the fire car. Going by the fact that I had trouble finding it to take photos of because the children had run off with it, I assume it's their favourite too (though I suppose carrying off a large fire station is slightly more problematic). Whilst extensive testing hasn't been undergone, I imagine this tough and chunky car is pretty indestructible and best of all it comes with rubber tyres on its wheels. With one of the men sat inside, it rolls nicely across the floor when pushed. Sold separately are a couple of 'deluxe' versions which include lights and sounds, should you desire a fleet of fire fighting vehicles.
Despite a couple of nitpicks, overall this is a good set with lots of play value. It is going to stand up to being battered by the most violent of children and thus be able to be handed on to younger brothers, sisters or friends in the future.