If you spent countless hours farming carpet as a child, constantly wearing the knees out of your pants, Ertl Toy Tractors by Patrick Ertel and Catherine Lee Phillips belongs on your bookshelf. Tracing the Ertl company's history and products over the last six decades, Ertl Toy Tractors is an enjoyable and informative look at one of the best-known toy tractor manufacturers in the U.S.
It all begins with an introduction to Fred Ertl Sr., and how he and his family emigrated to the U.S. from Germany. A journeyman gray-iron molder by trade, Ertl was laid off due to a strike in 1945, just after World War II. Determined to provide for his family, he began casting scale-model tractors in his basement in hopes of selling them to toy stores and five-and-dimes. Fortunately, some of his little red Allis-Chalmers WCs sold, and slowly but surely, The Ertl Company got off the ground.
Although the company's first toy tractor was an Allis-Chalmers, Ertl really made a name for itself by producing John Deere models. Importantly, these were factory-endorsed and were sold exclusively in John Deere dealerships. With the backing of a large company such as Deere, Ertl's plan to offer exclusive toy tractors really took root.
The Dyersville, Iowa-based company kept growing, rolling with the changing times. Manufacturing methods continued to improve almost on a yearly basis, and Ertl toys continually evolved, becoming more and more detailed. The company changed hands a few times in its history, and experienced many of the hard times the OEM tractor manufacturers faced in the early 1980s.
However, the early 1980s also happened to be a milestone in toy tractor collecting: Baby Boomers suddenly wanted to "relive" their childhoods by collecting some of the toys they played with in their younger days. Ertl saw its fortunes flourish because of this new collecting craze - and it hasn't let up since. In 1998, Ertl bought out Britains, a European toy tractor manufacturer. That move effectively made Ertl the largest toy manufacturer in the world. A year later, Ertl was sold to Racing Champions, manufacturer of scale racing cars, forming Racing Champions Ertl Corp. The company continues to push forward, and Ertl will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2005.
Well-written and presented in a concise chronological manner, Ertl Toy Tractors contains high-quality photos on nearly every one of its 125 pages. Whether you are simply interested in Ertl toy tractors or are a die-hard collector, put this book on your list.
- Ertl Toy Tractors, by Patrick Ertel and Catherine Lee Phillips, Motorbooks International, 2004, ISBN 0-7603-2019-5, 127 pages, hardback. Available through Farm Collector Books. For ordering information, see pages 30-31 of this issue.