July 12, 2014

U.S. 1 - The Toyline

For additional information on this line, as well as photos, please visit the TYCO U.S. 1 Trucking fansite.


The late 70s and early 80s saw a resurgence in the popularity of semis and large trucks, and naturally, toy companies tried to cash in. Companies like Tonka, Nylint, and Buddy L filled toy shelves with large, well made metal trucks of all types, and kids snatched them up just as fast as they could make them. TYCO clearly wanted in on the big rig fad, and thus U.S. 1 was born. But if you were hoping to pick up your very own Wide-Load Annie action figure on eBay (Noel), I've got bad news for you. While, in true 80s fashion, Marvel's U.S. 1 was based on a toy line, that line didn't really have a "concept". There was no U.S. Archer, no Highywayman, no alien invaders, or old greedy white bankers. There were electric truck sets and
their various accessories. That's it.

TYCO, a company primarily known for its electric slot car and HO scale (1/87 scale - the industry standard) train sets, approached Marvel about creating a comic book based on its new U.S. 1 electric slot trucking line. Marvel did the rest, filling in the blanks with all of the nonsense characters and backstory we've talked about for the last three months. This was a curious and atypical approach for the time, and might account for how undercooked the concept ultimately felt. Al Milgrom and his team weren't merely fleshing out an existing idea, they were creating it from scratch.

In many ways, the U.S. 1 line is really just train sets, where the trains are replaced with semi trucks and the "tracks" with "asphalt". Though they utilized the same "slot" concept as their racing sets, the overall approach here is clearly inspired by electric toy trains. There were several themed sets released between 1981 and 1986, along with a variety of accessories, buildings, trucks, and additional track. Most of the sets naturally focused on the various ways trucks pick up and deliver their cargo, and a few were even tied in with well known properties like G.I. Joe and Stompers.

The detail on these sets and their various accessories is outstanding. There's an authenticity and craft to them that you just don't see very often these days. This is at least partially due to the fact that these sets were likely meant to appeal as much to adults as they were to kids, but then again, TYCO was always synonymous with quality. In 1997, TYCO - then the third largest toy company in the United States - was purchased by Mattel. With electric slot car sets no longer en vogue, today the TYCO division of Mattel focuses mostly on R/C cars.

There doesn't seem to be much of a collector's market for TYCO's U.S. 1 items today. Though a quick eBay search did turn up several hundred auctions, there was very little bidder activity. Complete sets, with box, and trucks not removed from their original cardbacks, were typically priced at over $100, though.

None of my research was able to turn up any other U.S. 1 related merchandise. Not even a trucker hat, which I found oddly disappointing. It's legacy in plastic remains the toy line itself, and as we've seen, that's not such a bad thing.

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