Handcarved Toy Wooden Tractors

Ralph Smith crafts intricately detailed wooden tractors by hand

| November 1998

  • A John Deere F20 – one of only three made – crafted from Texas mesquite
    A John Deere F20 – one of only three made – crafted from Texas mesquite.
    Photo by Cindy Ladage
  • Ralph Smith and his family made the trek from Texas to Iowa for the John Deere Two-Cylinder Show at Amana
    Ralph Smith and his family made the trek from Texas to Iowa for the John Deere Two-Cylinder Show at Amana. Shown left to right: Jennifer, Ralph's son's girlfriend; Lindsay Smith, Ralph Smith, Nancy Smith and Randell Smith
    Photo by Cindy Ladage
  • A 1935 John Deere A.
    A 1935 John Deere A. Should disaster strike, and a customer drops one of Ralph's tractors, he'll repair it. That kind of service is routine for Ralph, who said he enjoys working with customers. Many of his clients are women, he said, ordering gifts for their husbands and fathers. "I have girlfriends all over the U.S.," he said with a chuckle.

  • A John Deere F20 – one of only three made – crafted from Texas mesquite
  • Ralph Smith and his family made the trek from Texas to Iowa for the John Deere Two-Cylinder Show at Amana
  • A 1935 John Deere A.

At the Two-Cylinder tractor show held in Amana, Iowa, this summer, a large crowd gathered inside the information building. Part of the crowd had flocked to see Charles Freitag paint his beautiful farm scenes. The other part, though, was gathered around a display of wooden tractors so intricately made that the word "toy" is inadequate.

The handmade wooden tractors were the work of Ralph Smith. Ralph, his wife, Nancy, two of their four children, and a friend made the trip from Texas. Showing off his tractors and trading information with customers, Ralph made it clear that he enjoys his work.

It wasn't always work, though: Ralph started as a hobbyist.

"I bought him his first tractor as a stocking stuffer," said Nancy. "He was all excited and started collecting the little bitty metal ones."



The collection took off, though, when he bought a Case 1190, and received the toy to go with it. Although Nancy told him he could have just one, that number is not part of his vocabulary when it comes to collectibles.

He now has about 800 toy tractors displayed through almost every room of their Mathis, Texas, home (there are no tractors in the bathroom). The toys are displayed on glass shelves. The collection has grown so large that some pieces have even invaded Nancy's Barbie collection case.