Little did Leon Hess realize in 1964 when his company introduced its first collectible toy truck -- a tanker trailer with working head and taillights -- that updated versions would sell out 50 years later.
The founder of Hess Corp. created the product as a way to thank customers, and the trucks have maintained a reputation for quality mixed with a high "playability" factor, said Justin Mayer, director-brand marketing and innovation at Hess. Not to mention the scores of websites devoted to reselling the collectibles that have become a holiday tradition.
"If [people] see that [Hess] cares enough to put out there this toy that speaks to their heritage and history, then they're onboard with it," said Mike Wolfe, star of the show "American Pickers" on the History Channel.
Hess' 2013 model, a flatbed with motorized tractor and 45 working lights, is available for $28 and comes with a mobile app, Tractor Trek.
Here, five notable points:
1. Hess trucks are sold in 16 states, primarily along the East Coast, but Hess will ship orders on its website to anywhere in the U.S.
2. The first truck sold for $1.29, including batteries.
3. Only 42 models have been created. The truck was not available in 1973, 1979 and 1981 due to the oil embargoes and resulting gas shortages. For some years, such as 1965, Hess reissued the prior-year model.
4. Some mint-condition originals from the mid- to late 1960s can fetch around $2,000 each, according to several online collectors' sites.
5. The toy's first mass TV ads began in the early '80s. The lyrics to "The Hess Truck's Back" jingle, to the tune of "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels, are edited each year. From the current ad, done by Grey: "Going stronger this year -- the Hess truck's here."