Farm Collector

Fine Farm Toys: Arcade Threshers

When the “Weekender” section of the Freeport
(Ill.) Journal-Standard newspaper reported the history of
its hometown Arcade Manufacturing Co. in 1982, the writer did not
mention Arcade threshers. “Some of the toy favorites,” the article
noted, “were toy tractors, plows, buses, automobiles, trucks …” but
nary a word about the threshers. It was an unfortunate omission,
because anyone who loves cast iron farm toys has a warm spot in his
or her heart for Arcade’s series of five threshers.

The company started making farm toys in 1922, when it debuted
its Fordson tractor. Other farm toys followed, but it wasn’t until
1925 that Arcade started making threshers. That year one of the
company’s full-page advertisements showed a few of its bestsellers
– the Yellow Cab, Buick Coupe and McCormick-Deering Weber Wagon, as
well as front and back views of the “sturdily made … and very
realistic in appearance … toy McCormick-Deering thresher.”
According to the ad, the new gray-with-red-trim toy “includes many
appealing toy features. The feeder may be raised or folded back
when not in use. The stacker, or blower, can be turned to any angle
and lengthened or shortened as desired. The grain conveyor is
movable and the various pulleys revolve.” This thresher measured 12
inches long, 3 3/4 inches wide, and 4 1/2 inches high. With the
feeder extended, the toy was 18 inches long.

The 1925 catalog information, as might be suspected, speaks very
highly of this new toy: “To see this toy is to appreciate the
remarkable ingenuity and skill required in its design. Sturdily
made of cast iron, and finished in gray, trimmed in red. Wheels are
finished in an attractive cream color …,” although they actually
look more yellow in the colored page of the catalog.

A case of a dozen threshers weighed 51 pounds, net 43 pounds,
and measured 22 1/4 by 16 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches. The gray
McCormick-Deering thresher is roughly 1/16-scale.

Ray Lacktorin, Stillwater, Minn., who has collected cast iron
farm toys for many years, says the Arcade threshers are some of his
favorites. “Arcade made wonderful McCormick-Deering farm toys,” he
recalls. “All their threshers, all of their tractors, they’re
great. Arcade really copied the real thing well.” He notes that the
feeder would break off if the toy was dropped, so toy owners had to
be careful.

Ray liked the Arcade toys so well that when he built a new house
in 1966, he had a ledge built in his basement where he displays
Arcade toys he bought at auction, including the Arcade
McCormick-Deering thresher, which he bought for $26, a price
friends then thought was ridiculous. Today this toy can sell in the
$500 range.

For several years, the Arcade Manufacturing Co. could brag, as
it did in a 1925 catalog, that it had an exclusive product: “The
only known miniature thresher made in the world for toy
distribution.”

The company’s 1927 catalog said of the Arcade McCormick-Deering
thresher, “Here is something decidedly new – the Toy
McCormick-Deering Thresher,” and went on to describe the thresher’s
appeal. “These mechanical features appeal instantly to the
children.”

At about the same time, the company produced a
brilliantly-colored brochure about the “Arcadians” who actually
made the toys. The story is told through the eyes of Bob and Sue,
who drive with a teddy bear to Arcadia to see where the Arcade toys
are made. The back cover of the brochure shows, along with three
other toys, the Arcade McCormick-Deering thresher, and the story of
the Arcadians ends here, in rhyme:

“Then Bob and Sue drove home again
With kind old Teddy Bear.
They told their parents what they’d seen
A tale that made them stare.
Mother and father said, “We feel
These toys are good. They LOOK SO REAL!”

Lyle Dingman of Spencer, Iowa, a farm toy scratch-builder, says
he remembers wanting a McCormick-Deering thresher when he was a
kid. “We lived on a farm south of Spencer, and my grandmother got
me my first toy, an Arcade Farmall M. I remember saying to my
mother, ‘Why don’t I get to have a thresher?,’ and she said, ‘You
must remember it’s hard times.'” This was in the 1930s, and the
thresher cost $1.98, Lyle says.

The 1929 Arcade catalog contained, for the first time, a second
size McCormick-Deering thresher. While the gray thresher was
product No. 451, this smaller thresher, which came in three colors
(red, green and blue) was product No. 450, which probably indicates
the company originally planned to come out with these smaller
threshers before the larger gray ones, but for some reason didn’t.
At any rate, No. 450 had “nickeled wheels and stacker,” with a red
grain pipe, and the entire thresher was trimmed in gold.

Measurements for the red, green and blue threshers (the green is
displayed in the catalog) are 9 1/2 inches long, (17 1/4 inches
with the stacker extended), 2 7/8 inches wide, and the catalog
says, 5 3/4 inches high, which is probably an error, since this
would make the “small” threshers taller than the larger ones, and
the gray thresher, as shown in the catalog, is obviously larger.
The “small” thresher’s height should probably be 3 3/4 inches, as
it is listed in the 1933 catalog. Also, the gray thresher’s wheels,
which are still listed as “cream colored,” are instead nickeled in
the 1929 catalog. These smaller threshers are very similar to the
larger ones, with “McCormick-Deering” in raised lettering on the
side, and basic body similarities.

The fifth Arcade McCormick-Deering thresher was manufactured
starting, it appears, in 1933. That model was given a different
number than the other three colored ones: 450X (the others are 450
and 451). Some people say the change occurred because this one
represents the real Yellow Kid thresher, though there is no proof.
Though the thresher appears identical to earlier models, the
catalog says the size is different from earlier “small” ones. The
“small” thresher is actually larger (originally 9 1/2 by 2 7/8 by 3
1/2, but that was subsequently changed to 9 1/2 inches long, 3 1/2
inches wide, and 3 3/4 inches high). A dozen were shipped in a 14
by 12 1/4 by 10-inch case weighing 32 pounds, 28 net.

Interestingly, the statistics for the “large” gray Arcade
thresher show that its size too changed in the 1933 catalog, to 12
inches long by 3 3/4 inches wide by now 6 1/2 inches high, or two
inches higher than previously. Perhaps this is another catalog
error. At first the casual reader might assume that checking the
weight and size of a case of the large gray threshers would help
determine if there had been an actual size change – if the
threshers are smaller, the case weight would be less, if they’re
bigger, the case weight would be greater – and at first glance, it
appears so, as the gross case weight has changed from 51 to 48
pounds, and its size has dropped too (formerly 22 1/4 by 16 1/2 by
10 1/2 inches, now 18 by 14 1/4 by 11 1/2 inches). But the real
test is the net weight – actual weight of the toys not including
packaging – which stayed constant at 43 pounds. Thus the change in
both size and weight was in the wood packaging material, which
apparently was lightened to save postage.

Varied sizes of Arcade threshers would be no surprise. The
company regularly made many different sizes of the same toy, the
Fordson tractor being a classic example. The Fordson came in 24
different varieties in several different sizes as well as colors.
It is a rare sight and treat to see all five varieties of
McCormick-Deering threshers together (see photo on page 16 of this
issue). The smaller threshers are probably 1/25-scale, the larger
1/16.

Arcade toys, like the thresher, still elicit a lot of joy and
fun today. Bob Beall of Twelve Point, Ind., has a few Arcade toys,
including a dump rake, mower, corn planter “and an Arcade
International tractor that we hook up to an Arcade threshing
machine, to make a nice-looking set.”

The Great Depression and, later, World War II, hurt Arcade
Manufacturing Co. In 1945, the company sold to Rockwell Co. of
Pittsburgh, Pa., and not long afterwards, newly-manufactured Arcade
toys, including Arcade threshers, were a thing of the past.

– Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several
books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at: Box 372,
400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail:
bvossler@juno.com

  • Published on Jul 1, 2005
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