When Dan Dexter toyed with the idea of building a new showroom and retail store for his implement dealership, he decided the new building also should showcase his gigantic collection of toy farm implements. Today, many people visit Dexter Farm Equipment in Wataga, Ill., just to see the toys.
Dan became a farm implement salesman 26 years ago. That's when he started collecting toys, trading with children whose parents had bought tractors.
"I thought if Dad got a new tractor, the kids ought to, too," he said. He would trade a new toy tractor for two or three broken ones that youngsters brought to him.
Today, his collection includes more than 4,000 toy implements in 1/16-scale, countless tinier models, and about 100 pedal tractors. Custom-built showcases hold the small implements, and old tools and agricultural advertising signs hang on the showroom walls. Pedal tractors line shelves along the upper part of two walls.
"I'd like eventually to make the whole showroom a museum," Dan said. "It's unbelievable how far people have driven to look at these toys."
The collection includes all brands, models and makes of toys. Some toys are antiques, while others were produced only a few years ago. Two wagons were built as salesman's samples to pull behind pedal tractors. Almost every implement imaginable is displayed in its toy-size version.
Dan doesn't collect many of the special edition toys on today's market.
"Forty years from now, the shelf model stuff is going to be the most expensive," he predicted, "because nobody kept it."
He especially enjoys collecting John Deere and Case toys. His Deere toys include combines, tractors, balers, a pickup truck, a road grader, a semi-trailer, and farm sets in their original boxes.
Keeping track of the toys is no problem. Although he has inventoried his collection, "I remember what I have," Dan said.
His favorite toy is his old pedal tractor, rescued from a ditch on his father's farm several years ago. Half the metal had rusted away, but he had the tractor restored.
Most of his pedal tractors have been restored, but most of the other toys on display are in their original condition.
Today, his collection is growing more slowly.
"I never did go to a toy show every week," Dan said. "Now I go to two or three shows a year. It's pretty hard to find things I don't have, and they are very expensive."
Although he has new and used toys for sale, he will not sell pieces from his personal collection.
He gets his biggest kick from the visitors --especially the young ones. Kids who like the toys give Dan a special thrill. One 2-year-old who stopped every week with his grandparents would stand and scream with delight at the spectacle.
"Those memories are the kinds of things you can't put a price on," Dan said. FC
Dexter Farm Equipment is open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. They are located at 800 Access Road A, Monmouth, IL 61462; contact by phone (866) 865-3727; on-line at http://www.dexterfarmequipment.com.
Dianne L. Beetler is a lifelong rural resident who enjoys writing about people with unusual collections. She has been published in Country, Farm Journal, Farm Show, Antique & Collectible News and AntiqueWeek.