Model tractor collector turns hobby into business
Toy Store and Farm Toy Museum owner Dean Evans is well-versed in both model tractors and tractor models and when he dies, he knows exactly what will happen.
"My wife's going to call the auctioneer before she calls the funeral home," he said, laughing as he stood outside the building that houses hundreds of toy tractors.
The collection includes a few he played with as a youngster growing up on a farm in Humeston, Iowa, in the 1940s and '50s.
Dean, about to turn 54, never strayed too far off the farm as an adult until the late 1980s, when he started thinking a change might be in order. He remembers clearly the incident that clinched his decision: at his farm sale in April 1990, he traded his Case 400 tractor for six toy counterparts.
"I wasn't going to get what I wanted (in cash) for it, so I made a trade," Dean explained. He got a 2390 Case, a 1456 International, and four others the makes of which he can't recall.
Most of the 700 toy tractors and farm implements in his collection are brightly painted - green John Deeres and Olivers, blue Fords, red Internationals and Massey-Harrises and so on. But Dean hasn't yet been able to bring himself to touch with any brush the dull gray, late-1940s John Deere 'A' with the closed flywheel.
"That was the first one I had as a kid," he explained, chuckling as he hefted it in his hand. "I wore the paint off long, long ago. It was made from a melted-down piston because regular iron was scarce during the war."
Dean doesn't have a laugh and a line for each toy in his collection – it just seems that way. Consider, for example, hay balers. He has models of conventional round and square balers, in addition to today's types that turn out 9-foot-long bales weighing up to 2,200 pounds.
"It just got so you couldn't get high school kids to haul in the smaller square bales anymore," he said. "They thought there had to be some easier way to make money in the summer, and usually, there was. With the big bales, human hands never touch them."
He also has such relics of the pre-combine era as corn pickers and threshing machines.
"They called 'em corn pickers, but they usually left some behind on the ground," he said. "That's another way we made spending money back then – just selling what the picker left behind."
On the commercial side of his enterprise, Dean said it is just as important for him to stay on top of things as a collectibles dealer as it was when he was a farmer.
That's particularly true when he takes up to 25 toy tractors and implements to 10 or so farm toy shows each year in the Midwest. While not having the explosive popularity of Beanie Babies or baseball cards, farm toys do have a significant following, he said.
Scaled-down Allis-Chalmers tractors are among the most coveted items these days, Dean said, "because the company was bought out. They're not being made anymore."
Dean also repairs toy tractors, which are usually cast in two sections split down the middle and then connected. He's even filled special orders by creating new-old ones from various parts. Once, he put together a 656 International tractor because that was the kind his customer had farmed with for years.
After that man died, his widow held an estate auction and asked Dean to come and bid just to make sure that she got a fair price for the pieces of the collection.
He ended up willingly buying some of his own works back. But not the 656.
"She kept that on her mantle," he said softly. "She told me she'd never turn loose of it."
Collection spans two generations
Evans Toy Store and Toy Museum covers all the bases for the collector and enthusiast. Owner Dean Evans carries a full line of new farm toys and machinery for purchase, and has an extensive collection of antique pieces on display in a museum-like setting.
"It's all mine and my son's," he said of the collection. "We started giving him farm toys when he was about 5 years old. It's just a little bit of everything."
In business for eight years, Dean's had plenty of opportunity to visit with collectors from all over the country.
"We're located kind of close to the Lake of the Ozarks," he said, "so we get a lot of traffic from other states."
The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday, "if I'm not going to a toy show," he said. FC
For more information: Evans Toy Store and Museum, 202 South Walnut, Stover, Mo., 65078; phone (573) 377-4167; on-line at http://www.evanstoys.com.
Ron Jennings is a staff writer and columnist for the Sedalia (Mo.) Democrat, where this article originally appeared.