Boys and their toys. Is there anyone who grew up on a farm who didn’t have at least a few farm-related toys? Whether they were genuine replicas of real equipment, plastic knock-offs, or even homemade facsimiles, they sparked hours of imaginative play for the child who played with them. Unfortunately, those hours of play—often spent outdoors and in the sandbox or dirt—took their toll, rendering highly collectible the few toys that survived in good condition.
I had plenty of farm-related playthings growing up, from the Fisher-Price barn (remember opening the door and hearing the “moooooo”?) to a number of John Deere tractors and equipment from Ertl. There were also numerous Tru-Scale pieces to fill in the gaps that Ertl didn’t cover, including a grain drill and a hay elevator. And, yes, even as careful as I was, there were plenty of casualties during my years of play. My mother carefully kept all the boxes and didn’t allow my treasures to go into my sandbox. In fact, only a select group were allowed to go outside—and I lived by the rule that they had to be cleaned and brought back in when playtime was over.
For this installment of Tales from the Back 40, I’d like to focus on three of my childhood toys—and their eventual fates.
To begin with, there’s the John Deere pedal tractor that my parents gave me in the late 1960s. Mom says she’d wanted to buy me a tricycle, but Dad had insisted on the pedal tractor. My grandfather, Harold Trappe, and my great-uncle, Raymond Brewer, added a trailer that hooked to the drawbar with a little pin attached to a chain. They also provided an umbrella on a rod that went into a bracket behind the seat. The umbrella is in nearly mint condition today, since Mom took it away from me and put it in a closet for many years. (She was worried that I might bend it, when I turned my pedal tractor upside down to watch the chain go around, as I spun the pedals. Because, sure, I used to turn the tractor upside down. Didn’t you?)
At our farm, there weren’t a lot of flat cement surfaces on which to ride the tractor. Moreover, the tractor was a little too wide for our sidewalks, and the only other spot was a cement patio outside my grandparents’ front door. So, unlike those on other kids’ pedal tractors, the tires on mine have little wear and tear. The only defects are a series of decals I pasted on the tractor: decals left over from a set we got when our John Deere 530 had an engine fire in the early 1970s.
Where is it now? The tractor and its trailer sit on top of four bookcases in my basement, along with many other John Deere collectibles. Mom has the umbrella in storage, since I don’t have a good place to keep it. Thanks, Mom!
About the same time as the John Deere entered my life, I was given a red gravity box, a generic replica of the wagons in which we used to haul corn and other grains from the field to the storage bins. At that time, we had a pair of orange Killbros gravity boxes, and I was fascinated with my replica. The working door was just big enough to let through a few kernels of corn or oats at a time. It was great fun playing with it behind my replica John Deere 3020 tractors. I played with it so much that I broke off the tongue, but fortunately there was enough material that a quick visit to Grandpa Trappe’s shop and a drill press let us put things right again with a small bolt, nut, and lock washer. The repair continues to hold it together all these years later.
Where is it now? It’s also in my basement—on top of a stereo speaker. I use it to hold small items that I don’t want to lose.
Finally, we come to my John Deere combine from Ertl. At the time, aside from my pedal tractor, it was the biggest piece of toy equipment that I owned. It was so big that it took both hands to pick it up to carry it from place to place. I remember opening the box and having all sorts of fun that day on my Grandma Frankenhoff’s carpet, harvesting corn and oats from the green-pile rug.
Where is it now? Unfortunately, it was destroyed—but not as a casualty of hard play. I took it to school one day in the second grade, and it was dropped on the blacktop of the playground, shattering nearly every plastic part. I was heartbroken. It joined other worn-out toys in a large bushel basket at our farm. For whatever comfort it gives me, it’s still in that basket, which now nestles in the rafters of our garage.
These days, I’m not a rabid John Deere toy collector, although I’ve acquired a few that have caught my eye. With the wide variety available now, I have to wonder what things would have been like, had such offerings been available when we were kids.
What sorts of farm toys did you play with as a child? What do you collect today? Let us know in the comments.