Collecting Tractor Manuals, Tractor Brochures and Other Farm Memorabilia

A father and son team have made a profitable hobby of buying and selling printed farm memorabilia, including tractor manuals and tractor brochures.

| March 2005

One day at a farm auction, Jim Swenson of Hancock, Minn., noticed three boxes of agricultural literature for sale — tractor manuals, tractor brochures, and other assorted farm memorabilia. 'The way the auction was going,' the 44-year-old says, 'the auctioneer wouldn't get to it until 7 p.m., and I had a toy show in Mason City, Iowa, the next day.' So Jim told the auctioneer he couldn’t stay for long and offered to open the bid at $300 if the boxes were brought up soon.  

The auctioneer asked the crowd if he should piece out the items or take bids on the entire load. Jim chuckles as he recalls the scene. 'A guy in the audience yelled, 'If you don't take the bid that's offered, both you and the bidder are fools.' When I walked up to get the boxes, there was a low mutter in the crowd, everybody wondering about this guy who would pay that much money for something like that, but I was grinning from ear to ear.'

The next day at Mason City, Jim and his father, Lyle, sold a quarter of the boxes' contents, including Oliver Hart-Parr and Farmall F-20 literature in mint shape. 'We made a lot of money off those boxes of literature,' Jim says. The proceeds allowed them to support their 'habit' of collecting farm literature and other farm-related items.

The Start

Jim grew up on an 800-acre farm near Hancock, Minn., where the family grew corn and soybeans, and fed beef cattle, feeder cattle, and hogs. After leaving the farm in 1984, Jim worked pouring concrete. He and a friend also bought out a toy farm truck business, and named it B&S Parts. When the partner didn't have time for the business, Lyle bought in. 'The B&S can stand for a lot of things,' Lyle says with a grin. 'But we usually think of it as 'The Big Swedes.''

Farm literature first became a staple for the pair at a 1989 farm toy auction in Yankton, S.D., Jim says, where he got stuck with a box of farm literature for $13. Three shows later, after removing pieces for their own collection, only half of the box's contents remained, and Jim decided he would try to get more.

That required a mammoth effort, traveling to farm auctions, thresherees, toy shows, flea markets and defunct implement dealerships - anywhere old pieces of farm literature (as well as tractor manuals, farm signs, calendars, and many other types of farm-related items) might be for sale. 'For four years in a row, dad and I went our separate ways to shows,' Jim says, 'so each year we did 72 shows.' Sometimes that meant driving 400 miles the night after one toy show to get to another. 'We only do about two dozen a year now,' he adds.