In November 2008, I attended the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa, with a couple of friends.
Both of these guys are keen collectors of farm toys, and one is also heavily into pedal tractors.
This was my first trip to the Dyersville show: I’m not really a toy collector, although I do have 20 or so toy trucks, cars and tractors sitting around.
Dyersville, a small town of about 4,000, styles itself as the “Farm Toy Capital of the World,” because of the presence of the famous Ertl Co., toy manufacturers Scale Model Toys and SpecCast, and the National Farm Toy Museum.
We arrived early Friday morning. Although the show didn’t start until 6 p.m., there was plenty to see. We made the rounds of the farm equipment dealerships in Dyersville, each of which had all their toys on display along with refreshments.
Of course a visit to the Ertl warehouse was necessary. There we were treated to a preview of new Ertl products that will be released during the coming year. Then we moved on to SpecCast, where we viewed the fine, precision models they produce. At Scale Model Toys, we each received a small plastic toy tractor and watched tractors in 1/64-scale as they were put together on an assembly line.
Pedal tractors are big business and we checked out Samuelson’s Pedal Tractors, a store that specializes in both new and used pedal tractors, as well as repair parts such as wheels and tires, seats, grilles, steering wheels, pedals, chains, and decals. Some of the old pedal tractors are valuable, with Samuelson offering several priced over $1,000. They had a mint condition, original Case 400 for which they were asking $4,000.
Everyone visits Evers Toy Store & Doll Museum in downtown Dyersville. There you’ll find thousands of new toys of all kinds. A flea market was set up in a vacant lot nearby, but it was too cold to spend any time there.
Two popular attractions were housed in a building at the Dyersville Commercial Club Park. The one that interested me the most was a model of a barn and three outbuildings based upon a real barn located near Harrisburg, Pa.
In each of the four gable ends of the huge Gothic style barn is a large, louvered ventilator built in the shape of a five-point star. That and a large central cupola topped by a spire give the structure, constructed in 1872, its unique appearance, as well as its moniker of the Star Barn. The three outbuildings (a chicken house, hog house and a double, drive-through corn crib) are all two-story and built in the same style as the barn with cupolas and spires (but no star-shape ventilators).
The models, built in 1/12-scale, are correct in every detail. They were constructed by Terry Spahr, El Segundo, Calif. The model is huge: The barn measures 5 feet by almost 10 feet and is 5 feet from the base to the top of the spire.
The other attraction was a toy tractor and truck pull put on by the National Micro-Mini Tractor Pullers Association. It featured 3- and 5-pound 1/16-scale toy trucks and tractors powered by model airplane engines. These noisy little buggers pull a miniature weight sled down a 16-foot Formica track and are capable of pulling nearly 100 times their own weight. I’d never seen (or heard) anything like it before.
Part of the show itself was held in a large room at the National Farm Toy Museum, but the bulk of it was in Dyersville’s Beckman High School, which cancels classes for the event. The gym, cafeteria, four long hallways and 21 classrooms were jammed with exhibits and vendors. I never saw so many toys gathered in one spot in my life, nor so many people. You could hardly push through the crush in the aisles. The nation’s economic woes didn’t seem to hurt business as I saw lots of dollars changing hands.
Several classrooms contained elaborate dioramas depicting farms and farm equipment dealerships. Many were put together by young boys, while others were family projects and some were labors of love by old timers like me. These exhibits were judged, with each proudly displaying the trophy it won.
The most expensive pedal tractor I saw was a super rare (according to Wayne Cooper – I sure don’t know) Ford 901 that had a price tag of $4,500. Toy tractors were all over the map in price, with many selling for upwards of $500. I didn’t attend Saturday’s toy auction, but I heard a cast iron Vindex John Deere D tractor from the 1930s was hammered down at over $4,500.
Some of the new toys have incredible detail (with prices to match). I examined a model of the giant Big Bud articulated, 4-wheel drive tractor. Its cab was lifted, allowing full view of the engine compartment. Every tiny component, wire and hose of the original was faithfully replicated on that 1/16-scale model! Of course the price reflected the detail (I think it was $695).
Naturally I had to spend some of my hard-earned money. When I was a kid, I had an Ertl John Deere Model A tractor and manure spreader, which, while not the first of the Ertl line, was one of Fred Ertl’s early offerings. I don’t know what ever happened to my tractor and spreader, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a set just like it. Well, there were several of that vintage Model A tractors and John Deere spreaders for sale. I consulted Wayne Cooper for advice and bought a set for $100. The tractor has been repainted (but looks just as I remember) while the spreader is nice and original, and I’m happy with them.
I also bought (for just $20) a new 1/43-scale model of an English Fordson E27N to replace the real one that was destroyed in my barn fire some years ago.
My friends did OK as well. One brought home several models he’d been looking for, while the other stocked up on pedal tractor parts and bought some items his grandson had asked him to get.
All in all, it was a good trip and I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’ll become a regular like my friends and thousands of others who go every year.