OH, TO BE A FARM KID again, steering toy tractors through imaginary fields, corralling cattle into a replica barn, pretending to be a farmer just like Dad.
I imagine many of the kids tagging along with Grandpa or Dad to Louie’s Toy Box Farm Toy Show at the Nicollet County Fairgrounds in St. Peter last weekend were farm kids wishing for a new toy tractor or other piece of farm equipment to role-play their futures, or their ancestral pasts.
Shouldering my way through packed aisles Saturday morning, I couldn’t determine who seemed more excited—the men or the boys. And they had every reason to thrill in the mass of ag-related merchandise displayed by 43 vendors from Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.
I didn’t know quite what to expect when I entered the unassuming pole-shed style Johnson Hall at the fairgrounds. But I didn’t expect to find so many people (an estimated 2,000 weekend attendees), so many vendors and so much merchandise crammed into such a tight space. This venue is definitely too uncomfortably small for a toy show of this size.
That aside, I managed to wiggle my way through mostly throngs of men sporting caps and sweatshirts advertising ag companies. John Deere, which marked its 175th anniversary in 2012, showed a dominating presence in apparel.
But when it came to merchandise, I expect every line was represented.
Upon first entering the toy show, I just stood there, overwhelmed by the stacks and stacks and stacks of boxed tractors and other toys stretching out before me. Honestly, I thought I’d made a mistake suggesting to my husband that we come here. I may have played with toy farm equipment as a kid, but it doesn’t especially interest me as an adult.
I wandered for awhile like a lost sheep, wondering where to focus, how to best work my way through the crowd. Arrows taped to the floor to direct traffic flow would have helped. But eventually I figured it out and backtracked the other direction, easing into the line of shoppers (which did include some women and girls).
Eventually I found my niche, not in the toys, but in graphics gracing vintage matchbooks, calendars, literature and other advertising items. When I examined a 1950s vintage calendar and balked aloud at the $98 price tag, the vendor informed me that 10 years ago he would have asked even more. I couldn’t bring myself to shell out that kind of money or even $10 for a teeny tiny matchbook. I’d need to be a serious collector to justify such expenditures.
Shortly thereafter I met a serious collector, Wendell Bakker of Renville, whom I observed filing through stacks of magazines, about a half-dozen notebooks stuffed in a back pants pocket and another open notebook in his hand. Because I’m nosy, and I admitted that to Wendell, I initiated a conversation. This former crop, dairy and hog farmer and recently-retired field rep for the Minnesota Farmers Union has been collecting issues of the Allis Chalmers Landhandler and other farm magazines for 50 years.
“Everybody has a bad habit,” Wendell surmised, not that I would term collecting magazines a bad habit.
I didn’t question any of the other shoppers about their reasons for attending the farm toy show. But, based on the bulging bags most carried out of Johnson Hall, I’d guess many are collectors. As for me, I didn’t purchase anything, just added 94 images to my photo collection in 1 ½ hours. Total cost: the $3 admittance fee.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about show organizer, Louie’s Toy Box, click here.
Check back for more photos from the toy show.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling