Although trading cards are normally associated with athletes, an Arizona man has amassed an impressive collection of tractor cards.
An assortment of Ageless Iron tractor cards in the Lavern Hennings collection.
When Lavern Hennings was born, Babe Ruth was still a year from retirement and Lou Gehrig would still be the 'pride of the Yankees' for half a decade. Kids traded, wheedled and begged for their (and other players') bubblegum cards. For many farm kids, tractor-bound in depressed agricultural areas far from Yankee Stadium, both the money and the leisure time required to collect baseball cards were rare. Bubblegum alone was hard enough to come by. It's doubtful that any of those children could ever have imagined that the tractors which provided them with life and livelihood would someday be appreciated in the same manner as the Great Bambino.
Lavern Hennings, now 67, has been collecting Harvest Heritage, John Deere, and Ageless Iron antique farm implement and tractor cards since 1993. 'There are other companies that put out cards, but I narrowed it to those three,' he says. 'I stayed with what I liked.'
The cards, all printed with images of vintage farm equipment, just seemed to speak to Lavern. He says his favorite set of cards is Ageless Iron. 'Ageless Iron is the one I have the most sets of and I like the best. That's because it is strictly tractors - no machinery. I have five complete sets.'
Ageless Iron antique tractor cards were produced by Successful Farming magazine in conjunction with the Goodyear Company. Each card features a full-color photograph of a restored antique tractor. On the back is historical information about the tractor. In addition, the owner of that particular tractor is listed. There were six editions of 36 cards each.
'I also like the John Deere set with the gold embossed card that came with it,' Lavern says. John Deere issued trading cards from 1994-1996. Lavern says there were 100 cards in 1994 and 1996, but 101 in 1995.
Each set featured professional sports players with their tractors. In 1994, Jay Novacek from the Dallas Cowboys, and Nolan Ryan were highlighted on the cards. Reggie Jackson and Richard Petty were on the cards in 1995, and Larry Bird was featured in 1996. Each card back carried information about the tractor the athlete used and some statistics about his sports career.
'Some sets had those cards signed (by the athletes). They are rare and costly,' Lavern says. 'I don't have any, but my brother has a couple of signed sets.'
Lavern says that besides tractors, John Deere and Harvest Heritage cards included farm machinery and other related items.
Harvest Heritage cards, issued by Ertl, included tractors and machinery from John Deere, Case IH, Ford New Holland, and AGCO. 'There were two sets,' Lavern says. 'The first one was called the inaugural set and the second one ended it.'
Harvest Heritage cards featured photos of tractors that were reproduced in scale models by Ertl. Historical information about the life-size and toy model appeared on the card backs.
'Ertl also had a few Super Card Heritage Gold cards in each of those,' Lavern says. 'One set was OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Super Card List and the other was Open Market Super Card List. I don't have all the OEM ones but hope to complete the set. I'm interested in completing the (John Deere) Gold cards and (Ertl) Harvest Heritage and OEM series.'
Lavern, who lives in Safford, Ariz., says it is difficult to find farm cards in that area. He acquired most of his collection on trips to Iowa.
Until 1994, he collected only Ageless Iron cards, but, after visiting the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, Iowa, he added Ertl's Harvest Heritage farm cards to his collection.
Another Iowa visit to see his brother in Waverly took him to the John Deere plant in Waterloo. That was all it took to get him collecting John Deere cards.
'I just kept collecting and collecting,' he says. His cards now number nearly 3,600. 'I have several complete sets.'
Since all three companies have stopped issuing cards, Lavern says it is becoming harder and harder to find them. He searches farm shows, orders some, and trades with other collectors.
Unfortunately, he still has to buy his gum elsewhere. FC
Diana West lives in Joplin, Mo.