Jason Dalton's family first noticed that he meticulously guarded and cared for his farm toys when he was only 6 years old. Before visiting friends or relatives, Jason always wrapped his toys in soft cloth to prevent scratches on the journey and never played roughly with them. About the same time, he began to acquire farm toys in pairs as presents - one to play with and one to keep in its package, untouched for his ever-growing collection. That's when the Newton, Iowa, native began to amass what is ostensibly the world's largest collection of 1/64-scale farm toys.
When he was just 10 years old, Jason owned 800 different 1/64-scale farm toys. The gargantuan collection prompted Replica magazine, published by ERTL, a large manufacturer of farm toys, to award Jason the honor of 'Largest 1/64-scale farm toy collection in the world.' Jason, now 24 years old, says his collection has ballooned to 3,400 1/64-scale farm toys and is likely still the largest in the world. 'I know of a guy in Canada who has nearly 3,000,' Jason says, 'and a couple others in the U.S. who have big collections, but not as big as mine.'
Jason's mother, Judy, and uncle Steve Gifford began to buy farm toys for Jason from the time he was a year old. He collected most any scale toys in those early years, but then for some reason Jason took a fancy for 1/64-scale models. 'Maybe (I chose 1/64-scale models) because I always made buildings out of cardboard and the toys fit into those small buildings,' he says. 'Or maybe (I chose them) because these small toys didn't take up nearly as much room.'
Jason's reputation as an avid collector began just as early in life. Farm toy dealers remember an eager and excited young collector at toy shows who knew what he wanted, even in first grade. Others remember him from farm toy auctions. Jason says he was lucky to have an uncle willing to take him along to auctions. Today, Jason uses his talents to work at farm toy auctions with Julian Skretta, an auctioneer who remembers 6-year-old Jason raising his hand at auctions to buy 1/64-scale farm toys.
By the time he was 8 years old, Jason mowed lawns, did odd jobs and used his allowance to buy 1/64-scale farm toys. At age 10, he won a Replica contest for a 1/64-scale farm toy variation. By the time he was 12, he studied hobby magazines such as Toy Farmer and Toy Tractor Times, and sought out other collectors, all to satisfy his enormous appetite for toy tractor information.
In 1995 as a high school freshman, Jason created his own business, Dalton Farm Toys, as an FFA project. An ad he placed in Toy Farmer magazine listed 30 different toys, and the first customer ordered $230 worth of the miniature equipment replicas. 'I thought, 'This is great, for my first-ever sale.' So I started setting up at toy shows and advertising regularly for Dalton Farm Toys in Toy Farmer magazine,' Jason says. His efforts paid off and won Jason state and national FFA awards.
Jason says he got serious about collecting after his business success. More determined than ever, he bought as many 1/64-scale farm toys as he could find: tractors, plows, balers and forage wagons, among others. 'People always asked if the toys and my business were my parents' or my dad's,' he recalls. 'Or they'd call me and say 'You sound young,' and when I'd tell them how old I was, they always said, 'It's great for a young person to be doing that. Most kids your age are out partying and drinking, and you're selling toys.'' Among his accomplishments, Jason also became ERTL's youngest direct dealer (at age 21) and bought farm toys in bulk from Racing Champions/ERTL.
Two years ago, Jason cataloged his collection. He photographed each toy and printed pertinent information in three huge binders. Once he knew what he owned, he searched out the 1/64-scale farm toys he didn't own and bought them all. Today, he needs only three or four more to complete his 1/64-scale collection, although new varieties still crop up. His inventory is also stored digitally. With a few keystrokes, Jason can easily call up information on a certain model or determine if a particular variety is in his collection. All of Jason's 1/64-scale toys are NIP (new-in-package) or NIB (new-in-box), which increase their value in the unlikely event he would ever sell them.
Jason - a first-year newlywed - now owns a new house in Newton, Iowa, where he and his wife, Jill, proudly display all 3,400 different 1/64-scale farm toys and several hundred others of different sizes. 'I think she was overwhelmed at first,' Jason says. 'But now she's used to it.'
Though Jason owns almost every 1/64-scale farm toy variation ever made, he prefers John Deere and Massey-Harris, but his favorite toys are International Harvester.
Excitement still rushes through his veins when he attends the big farm toy shows, Jason says, because he never knows what he might find. 'There are very few variations nowadays compared to the old ones, and if you find one at all, it's usually a minor one, like a tractor missing a tire or something like that.' He says it might take a dozen years or so before many variations of some newly produced toys are discovered. It's the hunt that makes it exciting after all these years.
Jason divides 1/64-scale farm toy variations into two groups: a 'minor' group, which most collectors don't want, and 'major,' which most collectors really desire. The 'minor' group includes models with decal differences (some with solid colors, some without as well as size and shape variations); different rivets, package styles, and other differences. The 'major' group includes different colored rims, bodies, model numbers on the decals, among others.
These days, Jason mostly searches for older toys with foreign writing on packages that were made for overseas markets. A package could say 'Anhydrous Ammonia Tank,' but sport a Massey-Ferguson round baler instead. Another could be marked 'International Harvester tractor' and actually contain a John Deere tractor. Many times those toys are one-of-a-kind mistakes, he says, and very difficult to find.
Variations aren't often worth more money, although they're prized by collectors like Jason more than other farm toy collectors. 'The ones that really do increase in value are those of which limited numbers were made, like those limited to implement dealers, or gold-plated ones made as awards,' he says.
The most difficult variations of all are one-of-a-kind toys such as prototypes: a Big Bud tractor sent as a promotion to ERTL Co. executives, or a 560 International Farmall historical set, painted green. The oddest variation he's ever found was ERTL's first 1/64 tractor: an International Harvester Model 1466 that was packaged upside down. Some very early John Deere farm set variations are difficult to find, Jason explains. Also, he's still missing one of the first ERTL Co. toys ever made: an Allis-Chalmers 7045 tractor with a decal variation. The first ERTL Ford tractor with a domed rim also eludes his ever-watchful eye. Yet, the most difficult of all to find are the Big Bud four-wheel-drive tractors.
His 3,400-toy collection is composed of about 2,000 different models, Jason says, or an average of 1.7 variations per farm toy. Because people know Jason collects model variations, he is careful that they are actual variations. 'I don't think anyone has never knowingly tried to cheat me, but I have to make sure that the package hasn't been reglued or anything else changed,' he says.
Jason is usually calm and collected, but he gets excited about the big farm toy shows. 'I love getting geared up for a big toy show a few days ahead and trying to expect what you might find there,' he says. I can't even describe the feeling of going to the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa. Except that I'm excited, because I want to find every 1/64-scale farm toy variety ever made.' If Jason's collection is any indication of his determination, he just may succeed. FC
- Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414; e-mail: email@example.com