New Materials, Technology Revive Farm Toy Hobby
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The Eska name came from the first two letters of Essman’s and Kascel’s last names. The agreement stipulated that Eska could eventually manufacture farm implements, but not tractors. Ertl retained control over tractor manufacture.
In 1946 (or 1948, references vary), Eska began making stamped-steel farm implements in Dubuque. The company assembled and painted wagons, plows and manure spreaders, selling first to John Deere and later to International Harvester.
Joe Carter of Carter Machine & Tool Co. (CMTC), Rockford, Ill., contracted with Eska to supply stamped-steel implement parts. Although Carter designed many of the components, the finished pieces were assembled by Eska and sold under the Eska name; Carter’s name never appeared on these early Eska implements. “Sometimes, I think it’s hard to differentiate between Carter and Eska,” says Fred Ertl Jr., “because everything was intertwined.”
Bernard Niewind, Eden Valley, Minn., says there are subtle differences. “I’ll tell you how you can tell the Eska IHC 560 from another: The rear axle housing is just like in the 400,” he says. “The axle is made of steel, where all the rest of the tractor is made of pot metal, and the axle is loose. It also has the regular M or 400 front wheels.”
The relationship between Eska and Carter continued until 1952, when the Eska company ran into financial trouble. In repayment of debts owed him by the company, Joe Carter took over Eska Co., and moved it to Rockford, where his Carter Tru-Scale stamping operation was located. Acquisition of Eska gave Carter Tru-Scale the ability to expand its farm toy production. Carter crafted toys under both the Eska and Carter Tru-Scale brand names.
In the mid-1950s, Jim Heller of Eska asked Fred Ertl Sr., to make large, sand-cast riding tractors for Eska. “We made a few of the first pedal tractors,” recalls Fred Ertl Jr. “The first sand castings were made at several casting sources away from the Dubuque area, in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the assembly was done at Eska. The Second and Iowa Street location in Dubuque also became the main warehouse where Eska, Ertl, Carter and riding toy products were stored and shipped to Deere branches.”
Fred Ertl Sr. discontinued pedal tractor manufacture in about 1955, and Eska took over that product line. That line of John Deere pedal tractors and trailers is the company’s strongest legacy. In fact, the single most rare farm toy is an Eska-made red John Deere Model A with a coffin-shaped engine.
In late 1959, Eska and Ertl split, and in 1960-61 Ertl obtained licensing rights for Deere, International Harvester, Case, Oliver and Allis-Chalmers.
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