By day, Vernon Eymann works as a mechanic on full-sized farm machinery. In his spare time, he's the master of a kingdom of tiny farm tractors and implements.
Toy tractors make up most of the 1,600 items in Vernon's collection, which is housed in a specially built museum behind his Kenmare, N.D., home.
He has been a farm machinery mechanic for 38 years, nine years with an International Harvester dealer, and since then as a mechanic for Earl Schwartz Co., a corporate grain farm near Kenmare, N.D.
In 1984, Vernon began collecting farm toys. 'When International Harvester started going under, I got to collecting farm toys,' he says. 'I knew there'd be no more (manufactured).' He stayed with IH toys for a while, then started buying other brands at toy machinery shows and from implement dealers.
In 1986, he built a 24- by 36-foot museum to house his collection. He calls it the V&R Toy Museum - the initials are his and his wife's, whose name is Rosina.
Vernon's museum has one wall of red tractors, another wall of John Deere green tractors and in other places, Massey Ferguson, Allis-Chalmers, Ford and Cockshutt models. An antique McCormick-Deering toy combine and some Big Bud all-wheel-drive toy tractors, made by a craftsman in Montana who uses sand molds, also are on display.
Some of Vernon's smaller, more valuable items are kept in a glass case: His models run from 1/8 to 1/64 scale, and most are 1/16.
A favorite toy, and the most expensive in the collection, is a John Deere model G 1/12-scale model tractor that has an engine that actually runs.
Today, Vernon collects only John Deere, Case/IH and four-wheel-drive tractors. At first, he bought only new pieces, but now he occasionally buys vintage items, too. Also, after buying a number of factory-made toys, Vernon started building his own. His first was a toy cultivator, 'and then a tractor to pull it with.'
A couple of years ago, Vernon underwent eye surgery and recovering from that has slowed his model building, but he says he plans to be back at it by this winter. He focuses on four-wheel-drive tractors these days, and a collection of his handmade Versatile tractors has a display shelf all its own.
Vernon's workshop contains two turning lathes, metal brakes and a metal sheerer, a wire welder and an acetylene welder. He takes measurements of an original toy, then makes his own version, using steel and sheet metal. He makes his own wheels from tubing steel or buys the wheels from a dealer, and he buys cast aluminum engines from a man in Iowa who molds them.
Trophies Vernon has won for his handmade toys fill one 10-foot long shelf in the museum. His collections of belt buckles (many with farming motifs), caps, toy construction machinery, toy semis, and a model train also are on display.
Vernon says he's learned a lot from others about collecting and making farm toys, but he's also learned a lot from reading - and from making his own mistakes.
Each year, he displays his homemade models at a half dozen events in South Dakota and North Dakota, and he and Rosina attend another half dozen out-of-state toy machinery shows, including the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa. There aren't many shows in North Dakota, he says.
Vernon recommends that folks just beginning to collect toy farm equipment stay with one brand and avoid buying reproductions, which are usually cruder looking than the real ones. Some are pretty hard to detect, he says, but with a practiced eye, it's possible. Most collectors look for the more-detailed, dealer-edition models, he explains, noting 'shelf models' are intended primarily for use as playthings. Collecting toy machinery can be an expensive hobby, he adds, but it doesn't have to be. 'If you can afford it,' he advises, 'you can find it.'
- The V&R Toy Museum is open any time the Eymanns are home. Contact them at P.O. Box 493, Kenmare, ND 58746; (701) 385-4491.
- Mary Margaret Pecht is the semi-retired agriculture editor of The Sentinel newspaper, Lewistown, Pa.