First Things

Treasures from Toyland

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It's Christmas, when we all become kids again. The holidays bring to mind the toys of childhood, and for many, those toys were farm-related. Most were mass-produced devices. Some held up under the rigors of backyard use; others were cheap and self-destructed almost instantly. But none were as elegantly executed as the pieces crafted by the master builders profiled in this issue of Farm Collector: If a child raised in the 1930s had risen Christmas morning to find a toy as fine as these beneath his tree, his heart would surely have stopped.

Scratch-built masterpieces, of course, are not intended for play. They are prized collectibles, to be admired but not put to work. Perhaps their greatest value comes in the memories they rekindle … memories of toys far simpler but no less cherished. Toy builder Ev Weber has first-hand knowledge of that. As a child of the Depression era, he remembers no toys beneath the Christmas tree. But he does recall - and still has - the tractors and implements he built himself. A tractor constructed from wood scraps and a wagon fashioned from a cigar box elicit the strongest reaction from those who visit his show displays. "They realized what those meant," he says, "because they, too, didn't have anything during the Depression."

In an essay titled "Toys from Dad's Workshop" published in "A Farm Country Christmas," artist and writer Bob Artley (whose cartoons appear on this page in every issue of Farm Collector) has fond memories of the homemade farm toys his father crafted each holiday season. Cloistered in his workshop, the young farmer spent late evenings each December building toy barns, outbuildings, windmills and trains for his sons. Artley's parents loved the tradition as much as the boys did: They planned and schemed, dropped hints and added unique details. On Christmas morning, the scent of freshly cut and painted lumber filled the house.

Artley notes with regret that none of those handcrafted treasures survived his childhood. "In hindsight, I cannot imagine why we didn't take better care of those heirlooms, which they certainly were," he muses. "But as children we did value them highly as toys to use and to enjoy for that brief moment of childhood." Your own carpet-farming days are likely far behind you. Take a moment this holiday season to recall them, and the toys that once loomed as large as the real thing. Happy holidays from all of us at Farm Collector-

Leslie McManus, Editor
lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com