For this Allis-Chalmers collector, full-size tractors can’t compete with antique farm toys.
Eugene Barth has a passion for the Allis-Chalmers line.
That’s evident when visiting his rural Black Creek, Wis., home. A unique mailbox, a street sign at the end of his driveway and antique pieces decorating flower beds in his yard showcase the Allis brand. But that’s not all: Eugene’s basement is chock full of farm toys and his machine shed holds 20 full-size tractors and implements.
“My collection of toys began when I bought a toy tractor at Farm & Fleet. It was a WD-12 like the one we had on our farm when I was a kid,” Eugene explains. “One thing led to another.”
Trading up to tractors
After he began collecting toys, full-size tractors soon followed – even when that wasn’t Eugene’s intent. It started on the day he put a “for sale” sign on his van and parked it in front of his home. He got an offer, but not the one he expected. “A guy wanted to buy it but didn’t have cash,” he recalls. “He offered to trade me an Allis-Chalmers tractor for it and I couldn’t resist.”
Eugene’s full-size collection includes six 1948 Model G’s. Allis also sold a line of implements for the Model G, and Eugene is trying to get one of each (so far he has a cultivator, sickle mower, plow and planter). The Planet Jr. seeder was among implements developed by other manufacturers for use with the Model G. “It was used for fine seed, like cabbage or beets,” Eugene says. His oldest tractor is an Allis-Chalmers Model E 20-35 built in 1928. Classified as 20 hp on the drawbar and 35 on the belt, it’s considered a 4-plow tractor. Eugene began restoring the steel-wheeled piece over the winter.
An Allis-Chalmers D-10 is the most popular tractor in his full-size collection: “Everyone wants to buy that one,” Eugene says. “In this part of the country, the D-10 is rare. There are more of them in southern states; they’re hard to find here. I came across it when a local dealer told me about it. It was one of the last of that model made. The serial number is 10001 and the last one made, I think, was 10009.”
He also has a 1966 AC combine and an Allis All-Crop grain drill. Collectible Allis-Chalmers signs and memorabilia are everywhere on the property. When an old gas pump (now displayed at the entry to his garage) was retired from active service, gas was selling for 11 cents a gallon. Eugene restored the pump (which is not an Allis piece) using Allis colors and decals to resemble a promotional piece the company issued decades ago. Other Allis treasures include cardboard tubes that once held three filters each, vintage AC paint cans and an unusual spray can from the days before aerosol products existed.
Passion for pedal tractors
All of that is mere prelude. Pedal tractors are Eugene’s favorite part of the collection. “I have at least 125 of them and another dozen still new in the box,” he says. The display includes McCormick-Deering’s first pedal tractor (produced in 1949) and the second model produced by John Deere. Allis-Chalmers also began producing pedal tractors in 1949.
Eugene’s collection embraces all brands and colors, but most of the pedal tractors are orange. Even within that niche, there’s more variation than you’d expect. When Allis-Chalmers started building tractors in 1914, they were painted green. In 1930, the company adopted Persian Orange as its official shade; that was changed to Corporate Orange in 1958.
Then, in about 1960, the company began painting the underside of full-size tractors maroon. “I don’t have the full-size model with a maroon belly because that was only the 6000 series and my tractors are older than that,” Eugene explains, “but I do have a pedal tractor with a maroon belly.”
Showing the evolution of a company, Eugene’s pedal tractor collection includes 16 models of AC tractors, three Deutz-Allis pedals (all in green) and three AGCO pedals (orange). His oldest Allis-Chalmers pedal is a Model C built in 1949. The second oldest is a CA dating to 1951. As a nod to the trio in his full-size collection, he also has a pedal tractor version of the 1948 Model G.
One of his most unique toys is a 1/64-scale tractor. The piece is small enough to rest on the tip of his finger but its pedals actually turn. He bought it from an Allis collector in Minnesota. It has no markings so he’s been unable to identify the manufacturer.
Eugene is always on the lookout for pedal tractors. Sometimes he’s not sure what he’s looking at. “I found one that had four coats of paint on it,” he recalls. “It was originally green, then painted brown, then blue and then green again. I stripped it and redid it to its original color. It likely was repainted because the kids wanted their tractor to look like Dad’s.”
Occasionally he restores toys as well. When Eugene acquired a cast iron 1/16-scale 1938 Allis-Chalmers tractor, it wore a coat of red paint. A little investigation revealed Allis orange underneath. That piece (made in the late 1930s by the Arcade Co.) was soon restored to its original color.
American-made classic farm toys
Most of Eugene’s pedal tractors were manufactured by Scale Model Toys, the company launched by Joe Ertl in Dyersville, Iowa. Toys from that company are still assembled exclusively in the U.S. Scale Model spun off from Ertl Co. in 1977 and has been manufacturing miniature agricultural tractors and implements, including pedal tractors, since 1978.
Before that, Eska – which got its start as the marketing arm of Ertl Toy Co., Dyersville, in 1946 – produced farm toys and pedal tractors. Fred Ertl Sr., owner of the Ertl toy company, discontinued pedal tractor manufacture in about 1955, and Eska took over that product line until the company went out of business a few years later. (Read more about the evolution of the farm toy business in Bill Vossler’s articles “Reinventing a Hobby” and “Modern Day Makeover” from the June and July 2009 issues of Farm Collector.)
In the early years of pedal tractor production, dealers sometimes offered these small models (complete with decals and shiny paint) as a premium to farmers buying full-size equipment. The early models were tin; later, cast aluminum was used. Use of plastic components (and even complete plastic construction) began in the 1960s.
Many pedal tractors in Eugene’s collection are custom-made pieces never intended for play. Others have a lot of hours on them. When Eugene finds old pedal tractors, worn pedals have often been replaced by wood blocks. Frayed tires, disjointed hitches and broken steering wheels also cry out for repair and replacement after decades of heavy use, neglect and abandonment.
Eugene’s basement workshop contains an extensive inventory of replacement wheels, pedals and components in metal and plastic. He turns to the Samuelson Pedal Tractor Parts, a Dyersville farm toy salvage company, for many of his replacement parts.
Tires on older pedal tractors are often cracked and need replacement. Getting the old tire off the rim is no huge problem, but putting on the new tire – especially if the tractor is newly repainted – can be a challenge. Eugene has an easy solution. “Fill a kettle with water and bring it to a boil,” Eugene says. “Drop the tire in and it will soften up and you’ll be able to slip it on the rim.” FC
For more information: Eugene Barth, (920) 984-3686.
Gloria Hafemeister is a freelance writer specializing in agriculture and is the author of Rural Ramblings – 30 years of Rambling. She lives on a 177-acre farm near Hustisford, Wis., with her husband and son.