A Minnesota Museum of Farm Toys

Farm toys at a Minnesota museum celebrate American agriculture through the decades.

| September 2005

  • TheFroehlichTractor.jpg
    Above: The Froehlich tractor shown here is often cited as the first tractor ever made. This handmade model shows the variety in Loren Stier’s collection.
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    Above: A rare 1/16-scale cast iron Arcade John Deere Model A tractor, one of the pieces from Loren Stier’s boyhood. It shows considerable wear and tear.
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    Below: Loren Stier with a trio of prized handmade toys: 1/8-scale versions of a Case steam traction engine (foreground), a Nichols & Shepard steam traction engine, and a thresher (at back).
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    Above: Loren Stier likes custom-made and hand-built farm toys, like this Yoder-made John Deere 720 with pony start, in 1/16-scale.
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    Left: The Country Showcase Toy Museum has foreign farm toys as well as American, like this German plastic Bruder John Deere 6400 tractor.
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    Right: This John Deere 420 crawler (produced for the 18th Annual Plow City Toy Show in Moline, Ill.) graces one of the shelves in Loren Stier’s museum. This one has metal tracks, just like the real ones. Those are the kinds of realistic details Loren likes toys in his museum to have.
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    Below: This John Deere 530 is a unique model, as only one of these handmade wood models was ever made by Marvin Kruse. The museum has a complete collection of Kruse wood models.
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    Below: This pewter combine in 1/64-scale is also a part of Loren’s museum. It represents a John Deere 9750 STS combine.
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    Right: Before Shirley Stier had the murals painted, this is what the displays looked like. This one represents the 1950s farm. Among Loren’s favorites: a corn-drying scene, complete with little fans. “They make the same sound as the real ones,” he says.
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    Below: Farms from two eras are visible in this photo. To the right, with the horses and wagon, and older-model cars, is the farm of the 1930s. To the left, with the larger barn and other red buildings, is a farm of the 1940s.
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    Right: Loren and Shirley Stier of the Country Showcase Toy Museum.

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If you build it, they will come. That might have been the motto of Loren Stier of Belle Plaine, Minn., who has parlayed a love of farming and farm toys into a museum dedicated to farm toys. Through word-of-mouth, visitors have heard about the museum, and come from all over the world. "I've had visitors from Australia, France and Germany," Loren says. "Often they are visiting in the area, and they are told about this interesting museum out in the country near Belle Plaine." A London, England, toy collector heard about the museum, and stopped in, as well as a group of Japanese exchange students. "They really enjoyed it."

Loren, 73, got his start in farm toys in 1939 when he received a 1/16-scale Arcade cast iron McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor and Arcade threshing machine for Christmas. The next year, at age 8, he received a pair of 1/16-scale Vindex cast iron black horses and 1/16-scale Vindex grain wagon. "I began my farming in miniature at that time," says the former owner of Stier Bus & Truck with a chuckle. "I was collecting a long time before I thought of the museum. I was collecting years ago, not yet realizing that many others were also collecting farm toys."

Business paves the way

Loren's bus business, now run by his son and son-in-law, was instrumental in the creation of the museum in 1985. "We moved the bus business to new quarters," he says, "which left an empty building behind." The next winter was a mild one, allowing Loren time to get out his toys and erect displays.

Ten years later, the business helped the hobby again. "We were looking for high land for towers for our radio system for busses, and we found the land where we're now located," he recalls. "It was 65 acres, so we decided to build a house and a new and larger museum."



Building a collection

Today the 124-by-48-foot two-story museum houses thousands of toy tractors, implements and trucks, as well as collections of dolls and a few antique and classic cars. As a former volunteer fireman in Belle Plaine, Loren counts vintage fire trucks among his interests. He has a pair of full-size trucks (an open-cab 1923 Universal fire truck and an open-cab 1937 Studebaker fire truck) to go with his collection of toy fire trucks.

But Loren's first love is miniatures. "Like cast iron threshing machines, teams of horses, cast iron tractors from the 1920s," he says. "I'd say they're possibly the most-sought cast iron toys of any."



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