By Todd Lappin

In my house, we have a tradition: whenever a friend or family member has a firstborn child, we present the lucky parents with a brand new Tonka Mighty Dump Truck. Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter — have a kid, and you get the truck. We’ve given dozens away over the years. Kids still love ’em, and no wonder: Tonka’s classic dump truck is big, durable, fun, and extremely yellow.

When it was our turn to have a firstborn, I wanted to create a Tonka that was extra special. We were expecting a daughter, so I hit on the idea of giving her a pink Tonka. And not just pink; I wanted to give her a pink Hello Kitty Tonka, a slick mashup of two childhood icons! No child of mine could possibly go through life without one.

Happily, the venerable Tonka dump truck turns out to be a versatile platform for mods and customization. I started by building a prototype: a primer-black truck with red wheels that I nicknamed the Rat Rod Tonka. I liked it so much that I brought it to a local pinstriper to add some fancy scrollwork. The Hello Kitty Tonka came next, and I really liked the way it turned out too. There are more I still want to build — a Tonka lowrider! a Tonka painted like the Partridge Family bus! — and I’ll make them all eventually, but in the meantime you may have even better ideas. Here’s everything you need to know about creating your own Kustom Tonkas.