When the "Weekender" section of the Freeport (Ill.) Journal-Standard newspaper reported the history of its hometown Arcade Manufacturing Co. in 1982, the writer did not mention Arcade threshers. "Some of the toy favorites," the article noted, "were toy tractors, plows, buses, automobiles, trucks …" but nary a word about the threshers. It was an unfortunate omission, because anyone who loves cast iron farm toys has a warm spot in his or her heart for Arcade's series of five threshers.
The company started making farm toys in 1922, when it debuted its Fordson tractor. Other farm toys followed, but it wasn't until 1925 that Arcade started making threshers. That year one of the company's full-page advertisements showed a few of its bestsellers - the Yellow Cab, Buick Coupe and McCormick-Deering Weber Wagon, as well as front and back views of the "sturdily made … and very realistic in appearance … toy McCormick-Deering thresher." According to the ad, the new gray-with-red-trim toy "includes many appealing toy features. The feeder may be raised or folded back when not in use. The stacker, or blower, can be turned to any angle and lengthened or shortened as desired. The grain conveyor is movable and the various pulleys revolve." This thresher measured 12 inches long, 3 3/4 inches wide, and 4 1/2 inches high. With the feeder extended, the toy was 18 inches long.
The 1925 catalog information, as might be suspected, speaks very highly of this new toy: "To see this toy is to appreciate the remarkable ingenuity and skill required in its design. Sturdily made of cast iron, and finished in gray, trimmed in red. Wheels are finished in an attractive cream color …," although they actually look more yellow in the colored page of the catalog.
A case of a dozen threshers weighed 51 pounds, net 43 pounds, and measured 22 1/4 by 16 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches. The gray McCormick-Deering thresher is roughly 1/16-scale.
Ray Lacktorin, Stillwater, Minn., who has collected cast iron farm toys for many years, says the Arcade threshers are some of his favorites. "Arcade made wonderful McCormick-Deering farm toys," he recalls. "All their threshers, all of their tractors, they're great. Arcade really copied the real thing well." He notes that the feeder would break off if the toy was dropped, so toy owners had to be careful.
Ray liked the Arcade toys so well that when he built a new house in 1966, he had a ledge built in his basement where he displays Arcade toys he bought at auction, including the Arcade McCormick-Deering thresher, which he bought for $26, a price friends then thought was ridiculous. Today this toy can sell in the $500 range.
For several years, the Arcade Manufacturing Co. could brag, as it did in a 1925 catalog, that it had an exclusive product: "The only known miniature thresher made in the world for toy distribution."
The company's 1927 catalog said of the Arcade McCormick-Deering thresher, "Here is something decidedly new - the Toy McCormick-Deering Thresher," and went on to describe the thresher's appeal. "These mechanical features appeal instantly to the children."
At about the same time, the company produced a brilliantly-colored brochure about the "Arcadians" who actually made the toys. The story is told through the eyes of Bob and Sue, who drive with a teddy bear to Arcadia to see where the Arcade toys are made. The back cover of the brochure shows, along with three other toys, the Arcade McCormick-Deering thresher, and the story of the Arcadians ends here, in rhyme:
"Then Bob and Sue drove home again
With kind old Teddy Bear.
They told their parents what they'd seen
A tale that made them stare.
Mother and father said, "We feel
These toys are good. They LOOK SO REAL!"
Lyle Dingman of Spencer, Iowa, a farm toy scratch-builder, says he remembers wanting a McCormick-Deering thresher when he was a kid. "We lived on a farm south of Spencer, and my grandmother got me my first toy, an Arcade Farmall M. I remember saying to my mother, 'Why don't I get to have a thresher?,' and she said, 'You must remember it's hard times.'" This was in the 1930s, and the thresher cost $1.98, Lyle says.
The 1929 Arcade catalog contained, for the first time, a second size McCormick-Deering thresher. While the gray thresher was product No. 451, this smaller thresher, which came in three colors (red, green and blue) was product No. 450, which probably indicates the company originally planned to come out with these smaller threshers before the larger gray ones, but for some reason didn't. At any rate, No. 450 had "nickeled wheels and stacker," with a red grain pipe, and the entire thresher was trimmed in gold.
Measurements for the red, green and blue threshers (the green is displayed in the catalog) are 9 1/2 inches long, (17 1/4 inches with the stacker extended), 2 7/8 inches wide, and the catalog says, 5 3/4 inches high, which is probably an error, since this would make the "small" threshers taller than the larger ones, and the gray thresher, as shown in the catalog, is obviously larger. The "small" thresher's height should probably be 3 3/4 inches, as it is listed in the 1933 catalog. Also, the gray thresher's wheels, which are still listed as "cream colored," are instead nickeled in the 1929 catalog. These smaller threshers are very similar to the larger ones, with "McCormick-Deering" in raised lettering on the side, and basic body similarities.
The fifth Arcade McCormick-Deering thresher was manufactured starting, it appears, in 1933. That model was given a different number than the other three colored ones: 450X (the others are 450 and 451). Some people say the change occurred because this one represents the real Yellow Kid thresher, though there is no proof. Though the thresher appears identical to earlier models, the catalog says the size is different from earlier "small" ones. The "small" thresher is actually larger (originally 9 1/2 by 2 7/8 by 3 1/2, but that was subsequently changed to 9 1/2 inches long, 3 1/2 inches wide, and 3 3/4 inches high). A dozen were shipped in a 14 by 12 1/4 by 10-inch case weighing 32 pounds, 28 net.
Interestingly, the statistics for the "large" gray Arcade thresher show that its size too changed in the 1933 catalog, to 12 inches long by 3 3/4 inches wide by now 6 1/2 inches high, or two inches higher than previously. Perhaps this is another catalog error. At first the casual reader might assume that checking the weight and size of a case of the large gray threshers would help determine if there had been an actual size change - if the threshers are smaller, the case weight would be less, if they're bigger, the case weight would be greater - and at first glance, it appears so, as the gross case weight has changed from 51 to 48 pounds, and its size has dropped too (formerly 22 1/4 by 16 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches, now 18 by 14 1/4 by 11 1/2 inches). But the real test is the net weight - actual weight of the toys not including packaging - which stayed constant at 43 pounds. Thus the change in both size and weight was in the wood packaging material, which apparently was lightened to save postage.
Varied sizes of Arcade threshers would be no surprise. The company regularly made many different sizes of the same toy, the Fordson tractor being a classic example. The Fordson came in 24 different varieties in several different sizes as well as colors. It is a rare sight and treat to see all five varieties of McCormick-Deering threshers together (see photo on page 16 of this issue). The smaller threshers are probably 1/25-scale, the larger 1/16.
Arcade toys, like the thresher, still elicit a lot of joy and fun today. Bob Beall of Twelve Point, Ind., has a few Arcade toys, including a dump rake, mower, corn planter "and an Arcade International tractor that we hook up to an Arcade threshing machine, to make a nice-looking set."
The Great Depression and, later, World War II, hurt Arcade Manufacturing Co. In 1945, the company sold to Rockwell Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., and not long afterwards, newly-manufactured Arcade toys, including Arcade threshers, were a thing of the past.
- Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at: Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org