One of the most successful lines of toy vehicles ever is Buddy L,
introduced by Fred Lundahl and named for his son.
In 1910, Fred Lundahl started the Moline Press Steel
Company in East Moline, Il. He provided quality pressed steel parts to the truck and farm machinery industry.
In his spare time, he would make steel vehicles for his son Arthur Brown Lundahl. The toys,
originally made only as special items for his son, caught the attention of other children
and their fathers. The Moline Pressed Steel Company began making and selling the model vehicles too,
using the same heavy-gauge steel that they used in the
manufacturing of parts for automobiles and trucks. The immediate and soaring popularity of these
sturdy and durable toys resulted in Moline Steel shifting exclusively to the manufacture of these
models within a few years.
These vehicles that Mr. Lundahl made for Arthur and his friends caught on so well in the neighborhood and
beyond, that in 1921 he began to devote his entire career to toys as evidenced by the new name of the
company created for his vehicle loving son who was also known as Buddy L.
Through the mid 1900ís and beyond, the Buddy L name continued to signify why it is referred
to as the toughest toys on wheels. With a heavy concentration of steel and wooden vehicles,
Buddy L not only became a familiar household name,
but stood for quality and assured all
parents and grandparents who purchased products for their children and grandchildren that they
could trust Buddy L for years to come.
Buddy L produced a wide variety of vehicles, from trains and construction
equipment to delivery and emergency vehicles to Ford cars and trucks. All had moving parts,
some had removable cargo, and a few were very elaborate, including features such as working
hydraulics. The early vehicles averaged from 20 to 26 inches and were sturdy enough for a child
to ride. This indoor/outdoor utility insured Buddy L a place in toy vehicle history.
In 1927, a complete line of model railroad equipment was started. The trains were big
and heavy, they were 5/8 inch scale, and ran on two
rail track that was 3¼" gauge (three and a quarter inches between the 2 rails). The track had
heavy rolled steel rails welded to steel ties. The rolling stock consisted of open cars such as hoppers, gondolas
and flats, as well as a box car, tank car, stock car, side dumping ballast car, wrecking crane, clamshell dredge,
pile driver and steam shovel. Overall, there were 14 different pieces of original Buddy L railroad
equipment produced, including a single Pacific type, non-powered locomotive and tender, faithfully
copied after a Rock Island prototype. All the trains were made of heavy gauge welded sheet steel and
were equipped with die-cast AAR type working couplers.
Track was available in 4 foot long curved or straight sections. The curves
had a 12 foot radius. The name 'Bethelhem Steel Co' was stamped on the web of the rails. There were
left and right hand manual-throw turnouts (switches) that were 6 feet long.
Buddy L also made steel road bed plates, steel bridge sections, steel piers, a turntable and a round house.
A 2" gauge train was also manufactured, known as the Buddy L Industrial Train. It too
was push-powered. It included a Gasoline locomotive (switcher), Stake car (flat), Rock car, Gondola,
Ballast car, and Rocker dump car. Track was stamped in 24" sections, the rail and ties were all
formed from one piece of metal.
Before Buddy L, most toy vehicles were made of cast iron or wood, but Buddy L's success with
steel spawned competition. Companies such as Keystone, Kingsbury, Structo and Sturdy made heavy-gauge
vehicles, while Acme, A.C. Gilbert, Girard and Kingsbury produced lighter-gauge
versions. Because of the heavy duty construction, Buddy L trains are suited for creation of outdoor railroads.
In the 7 year period that the trains were manufactured, the designs never changed. Prices ranged from $27
for the locomotive and tender down to $6 for the #1006 flat car. The average freight car was listed at $8,
with the wrecking crane and other specialty items somewhat more.
During World War II, the need for steel for the war effort meant finding
other materials, so Buddy L produced wood
vehicles during those years. After the war, vehicle size decreased and Buddy L experimented with
plastics, but quickly returned to metal fabrication, although in lighter-gauge materials.
In the 1970's, the company was sold to a Japanese firm that began incorporating increasing amounts of plastics
into the vehicles. More recently, the models were made in China of nearly all plastic construction.
In the 1990's T-Reproductions of Johnson City, TN was authorized to make replicas of the original
heavy metal pre-war models, including the trains, under license from the Buddy L Corporation.
While all Buddy L toys from the 1920's to the 1960's are collectible, most desirable are the
heavy-gauge pre-war models, especially the trains. These can command prices from a few hundred to
several thousand dollars.
The early trains produced by Buddy L are among the sturdiest of all American toy trains and
routinely sell in a higher price range. Vehicles produced by this icon of toy manufacturing
promise to retain their value for years to come.