Proudly displayed in the Museum of History and Industry is one piece of Seattle history that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. History doesn’t have to be stuffy as shown by this artifact on exhibit.
Of course, we are talking about the famous Lincoln Towing’s Pink Toe Truck. This bubblegum-colored tow truck with five toes on top is one of Seattle’s iconic images.
I have wanted to write a feature article about the Toe Truck for a while. I recently read Life Through the Rearview Mirror, a book written by Ed Lincoln, the original owner of Lincoln Towing and the inventor of the famous left foot on wheels. In a few chapters of the book, Mr. Lincoln told the fun story of the Pink Toe Truck.
The idea for the truck came when a salesman mentioned to Mr. Lincoln that he had seen a tow truck with actual toes. The salesman sketched the truck for Mr. Lincoln and he started noodling with the cute truck idea.
Mr. Lincoln went to the abandoned cars that he owned that were slated for an abandoned vehicle auction. He spotted a VW bus with a crushed roof and Mr. Lincoln knew he had found the base for his new toe truck.
Lincoln hired Ed Ellison, a retired body shop owner, to build the new Toe Truck from the frame of the VW bus. The shell was made from a frame of chicken wire with fiberglass panels.
Next came the design of the five toes that would adorn the roof of the cab. An artist carved a Styrofoam model for the toes and applied fiberglass to the model. The inside of the toes was thinned by carving so that lights mounted in the toes would shine through in night parades.
The completed Pink Toe Truck was painted bubble gum pink and it was ready for its debut. It stood over eleven tall at the top of the big toe. In July 1980, the soon-to-be-famous mobile left foot debuted in a parade on Queen Anne hill.
Although the Toe Truck had a towing wrench and technically could tow a small car, it was never used for that purpose. It would become a beloved advertising symbol for Lincoln Towing. Mr. Lincoln donated the truck to be used for charitable events and Lincoln drivers volunteered to drive the truck.
In 1984, the Toe Truck’s iconic status was cemented when Mr. Lincoln decided to put the truck on display on his building’s roof at the company’s Fairview Avenue and Mercer Street location. It was now on view to the millions of drivers that passed by the Mercer Street intersection on I-5.
Over the years, radio stations would send their DJs to broadcast live from the Toe Truck’s home on the building’s roof.
The Company built a right foot Toe Truck in 1996 and it is still owned by the Company’s owners.
Mr. Lincoln sold his towing company and retired. He kept the Toe Truck and decided to donate it to a museum. Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry wanted the truck but it did not have the funds to restore it. Mr. Lincoln had the truck restored and it was ready to go to its new home.
In February of 2005, a final parade was arranged for the famous Pink Toe Truck. Two Seattle policemen led the parade from Seattle Center to the Museum. A total of seventeen tow trucks including six trucks from the Lincoln Towing Company and trucks from other towing companies participated in this fun event to showcase the journey to the Museum. Mr. Lincoln drove the Toe Truck and his wife was the front seat passenger.
The Pink Toe Truck stands proudly on display in the Museum. In late 2012, the Toe Truck will be moved to the Museum’s future location in the naval armory building on south Lake Union. It will continue to bring smiles to Museum visitors for many years to come.
In 2011, Mr. Lincoln published his book Life Through the Rearview Mirror that talks about Lincoln’s business life. The book has several chapters devoted to the story of the famous Pink Toe Truck.