Dedicated toy man

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McCormick-Deering dealership sign

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It takes a toy collector to truly love a toy show, and Don Dinges of Sublette, Ill., sure fits the profile. Don started collecting toys as a child; 20 years ago, he helped organize the first Sublette Toy Show, and today he continues to serve on that event's organizing committee. The show has grown into one of the state's largest, and last March's installment drew more than 7,000 people to Sublette, a north central Illinois community with a population of 500. As the show has grown, so has Don's toy collection, which includes a number of antiques as well as all the 'featured toys' from the show over the years. He owns examples of many makes and models of toy farm equipment and cars, and he favors the International Harvester (IH) brand. Besides being a member of the original Sublette Toy Show committee, Don is a member of one of the original families to settle Sublette. In 1893, his great-uncle, Paul Stephenitch, opened a hardware and implement store there that soon became the International Harvester dealership.

After World War II, the dealership moved to nearby Mendota, where it remains today as the Ace Hardware store, still owned and operated by the family. Both Don and his father, Raymond 'Mike' Dinges, now 92 and still living in Sublette, worked there - Don while he was in high school and college, and Mike for 40 years.

Mike has preserved the 1930s vintage Stephenitch IH dealership sign that once hung in Sublette, and encouraged his son's toy collecting.

Don's first toy collectible was a 1949 Ford automobile, a gift from his parents while he was still in grade school. Other childhood favorites include a 1941 cast-iron IH pickup, significant to Don because few iron toys were made after World War II, and one of the first plastic IH Ms, which came out right after WWII. The M was a gift too, from the uncle who then owned the dealership.

Another favorite with Don is an IH 506 pedal toy that actually belongs to his son Tony. Don says Tony and his other son, Nick, both enjoy collecting toys - and teasing him about his personal commitment to the hobby. ' My kids say that I collect anything that everyone else throws out.' For Don, collecting toys began in earnest when he was in high school. 'Back then it was rather unusual, but I just liked the scale models. I was focusing on mostly 1/25-scale automobile promotional models and the 1/16-scale farm toys.'

The promotional car models were distributed by car dealers during the 1950s and '60s; in Don's collection are examples made of heavy plastic, pot metal and die-cast iron.

The vintage toy automobiles go hand-in-hand with some full-sized ones that Don also owns. ' I have a 1951 Henry J and a 1952 Henry J made by the Kaiser Frazer Co.,' he says, ' and an International Harvester 1949 pickup.' He also collects Burma Shave memorabilia and presents programs on the history of that company.

And, he's not finished collecting toys, either. 'There is another IH truck, a 1941, that I would really like to have,' Don says. He's also in the process of moving his entire toy collection to a downtown Sublette building for better public display, a project he hopes to have completed by the 2003 toy show, which is scheduled for March 16. FC

-To contact Don about his collection or the Sublette Toy Show, call (815) 849-5582. -Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer who lives at Virden, Ill.