I wasn’t born in Iowa, but I was born into the John Deere family. My dad worked for a John Deere dealership in Upstate New York and he occasionally traveled to Waterloo and Davenport for training.
Our family eventually moved to Iowa. My dad continued to work at a local John Deere dealer as a service manager, but this time over 1,000 miles away at Smothers Equipment in Monticello, Iowa. During his time at Smothers Equipment, I would frequently stop by the store and wait for his shift to end so I could get a ride home. I remember strolling the showroom floor gazing at the newest Ertl replica tractors and comparing them to the full-size beasts out on the dealership’s front lawn.
At Christmas time, I was pretty much assured that one of these scale model replicas would be under the tree. I remember getting all excited as I ripped off the wrapping paper, only to be told, “This one is a collectible. It is worth more if you leave it in the box.” This wasn’t what a 10-year boy wanted to hear. Of course, they weren’t completely cruel, I managed to get other tractors that I could open and take outside to dig through the sandbox.
Thanks to Midwest Travel Network and Travel Dubuque, I recently had the chance to tour the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville. Honestly, I’ve spent a large number of years within a 30-minute drive of the museum and I had never taken the time to stop. However, had I visited at a younger age, I’m not sure it would have sparked the same emotion that it did now.
As I wandered through the first floor of the museum, it didn’t hit me until I got this specific window display. I’m peering through the window and it’s a collection of John Deere tractor toys. It was donated by James Hollett from Wyoming and the museum has them on display behind this window. Seems pretty innocent at first – and then I noticed that every tractor was left in their original boxes. For me, this view takes me back in time… to wandering the showroom floor at Smothers Equipment as well as sitting next to the Christmas tree with presents that I’m not allowed to actually open. I now feel like I’m walking through a museum of unopened Christmas presents.
In addition to the toy tractors, we also had one of these riding toy tractors. In fact, it’s still in the family today, although certainly not in collectible calibur. I had three older brothers and I’m sure we did continuous battles over the chance to peddle this, so the tractor has its share of scratches and dents and maybe even a few incriminating bloodstains.
If you bleed green and yellow like me, make your way to the second floor to the John Deere section. It displays over 100 years of John Deere replicas, organized by decade.
Walking through the display per decade was a walk back in time. From the models that my dad used as a teenager when he helped out his grandparents, all the way up to models that once sat under our family Christmas tree. In fact, the 1980 cabinet feels a bit like my entire childhood all in one display case.
And of course, if anything but green and yellow is more your color – then they have display cases for IH, Case, New Holland, and others. They also have an international and antique collection of farm toys as well.
Be sure to check out Bernie Kluesner’s wooden marvels, which feature incredibly detailed handmade wooden toys such as this tractor. All of his creations are made with wood and Elmer’s wood glue – no nails, no screws!
The website for the museum also provides a really useful tool for collectors – an online pricing guide. It’s currently $25 per year but gives you easy access to the approximate values of any specific item. If you are looking to buy or sell farm toys, then this is also the location to assist you. Twice a year, they hold farm toy shows. The summer show is typically the first weekend in June and the other is held in November. Buyers, sellers, and enthusiasts come from around the world for these shows. Yes, no joking, from around the world, the toy shows are a big deal.
The museum also dedicates a section to the Ertl family, who first made replicas out of surplus metal following World War 2. Today, the company is owned by Tomy, but still resides in Dyersville, just on the other side of Highway 20 across from the museum.
Admission is $7 per adult, please check their website for hours and other admissions information.
Be sure to check out the gift shop, it’s filled with lots of Iowa farm and ag-related merch.
Now back to the unopened Christmas presents.
Do I still have the unopened special collector versions of the John Deere toys? Yes, we still have them. It’s funny to think that all the toys I once played with are all long gone, as I’m sure Mom threw those away years ago. The only ones left are the “collectibles” that are housed in their original, unopened box, under the basement steps of my parent’s home.
I realize that someday I’ll be called home to clean out my childhood home one last time. And when this happens, I’ll eventually reach the basement steps and have to begin contemplating what to do with my “unopened presents.”
Should I sell them? Should I take them to the farm toy show? Should I keep them?
Or should I just re-gift them to my grandchild and let them open them up…. all the way.