Wisconsin West Magazine (Below)
Farm Toy Fancier
Wisconsin West Magazine, March/April 2006
By Buz Swerkstrom
Bruce Gustafson never had a pedal tractor when growing up on a farm in the 1950s and early 1960s. He always wanted one, though.
In line with poet William Wordsworth’s observation that “the child is father of the man,” Gustafson now owns more than 100 pedal tractors, some of which were made when he was a toddler.
Gustafson and his wife, Patsy, collect pedal tractors and smaller farm toys. They also sell, buy and trade farm toys at their home-based store in northern Polk County and at annual farm toy shows in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Like tens of thousands of other farm toy fanciers, they feel a powerful pull from tiny tractors.
“We both enjoy it,” Bruce says of their joint hobby.
In fall 2004 they sold their 35 dairy cows to devote more time to their Leaning Pine Farm Toys business. (The leaning pine of the business name is a tree beside the end of their driveway.) “We had to choose between pushing this hard or milking cows, and this is a lot more fun,” Bruce says.
Their business is still essentially a sideline. Patsy works fulltime as office manager at a dairy co-op, and Bruce works seasonally at a lumberyard.
Fifteen to 20 weekends a year they travel to farm toys shows, about half of which are in western Wisconsin, at such locations as Marshfield, Rice Lake, Stanley-Boyd, Thorp, Tomah and Turtle Lake. Most are one-day shows. Some shows include crafts as well.
Since building a farm toy store next to their garage in 2003, they have had an annual Christmas open house at their Cushing area farm the first weekend of December. Their store, built when their hobby/business outgrew their garage, is truly off the beaten path, along a township road in a sparsely populated area.
“We enjoy visiting with people,” Patsy says about their home show and the road shows.
“Three-fourths of the clientele are farmers, or grew up on a farm,” Bruce says. “They have some farming background of some sort.”
Some social observers see a connection between the fact that farm toy collecting gained popularity as many small-scale farmers were forced out of agriculture in the past few decades. They suggest farm toys nurture nostalgia.
Collectors can choose from six scale-model sizes. The most popular sizes are the 1/16th (10 or 12 inches long) and 1/64th scales.
Bruce had “a few” farm toys when he was a child, “but not a lot. Everything I had was pretty much plastic – cheaper. And that was fine. I was fortunate enough to have a few toys, and that was fine. I was satisfied.”
Bruce began collecting about 20 years ago after his mother, Margaret, gave him a 1/16th scale John Deere tractor he had admired in a magazine. His father, Russell, used only Farmall tractors on his farm.
As Bruce started picking up other farm toys, Patsy quickly joined in on the thrill of the hunt.
Pedal tractors, now their collecting specialty, didn’t enter the picture until 1998. In that line, Oliver models are the favorite of both.
“Neither one of us grew up with Olivers,” Patsy says, “but we fell in love with Oliver pedals.”
A year after their pedal push began, the Gustafsons bought a farm toy collection from a Grantsburg man who had terminal cancer and wanted to dispose of his collection so his wife wouldn’t have to deal with it after his death. The collection included one hard-to-find, detailed tractor they wanted and a lot of items they didn’t particularly want. They went to a show to sell the other items, loved that experience, and started buying other collections so they could be dealers as well as collectors.
“You might not sell (at a show), but you might buy a collection or sell something down the road,” Patsy says.
They keep most of the pedal tractors they find for their personal collection. For all practical purposes, they no longer actively collect the 1/16th scale items that used to constitute the heart of their collection.
“We buy toys,” Bruce says. “We enjoy ‘em while we have ‘em, and when they’re sold someone else can enjoy ‘em. That’s kind of the principle we work on.”
While there are toy implements in every scale, tractors are to most farm toy collections what books are to public libraries.
“Kids want to play with the implements more so,” Patsy says.
There even are implements sized to match pedal tractors. Patsy says “they’re cute,” but “take up a lot of space, so even the collector of pedals doesn’t usually buy many of them.” The Gustafsons have sold most of the ones they have owned.
Some of their new items come from distributors, but most of the Gustafson’s stock has been built through the acquisition of collections.
John Deere model tractors make up the largest portion of their stock. John Deere toys are the most popular because people are most familiar with them.
“And John Deere puts out a lot more stuff,” Bruce says.
Most 1/16th scale tractors are worth between $30 and $50, including the display box.
Bruce says having the original packaging can be critical to value.
“That’s 50 percent, almost of the value of it,” he says. “Not so much in the new stuff, but in the older stuff especially.”
Custom made farm toys – items made one at a time, by hand – are considerably more valuable than mass-produced items, generally speaking.
Collector editions made in limited numbers also are more sought-after, and so more valuable. Most collector editions mark a major anniversary.
The mecca of the American farm toy world is Dyersville, Iowa, a small town near moviedom’s baseball Field of Dreams and home of the largest farm toy manufacturing company and the National Farm Toy Museum. The first weekend of November Dyersville hosts the annual National Farm Toy Show, the world’s largest toy show. Perhaps 700 to 800 dealers participate.
“People come from all over the world for that show,” Bruce says.
The Gustafsons have visited the Dyersville show the last two years. They are on a waiting list for a dealer spot.
“It can be anywhere from two to seven years,” Bruce says, “and we just got on the list.”
Actually, they aren’t sure if they want to set up a sales table there or just continue to go as customers.
“It’s fun to go and look and buy,” Patsy says.
Gustafsons Welcome Customers to On-Farm Farm-Toy Shop
Agri-View, November 17, 2005
By Jane Fyksen
It’s a safe bet there’ll be a farm toy or two under Bruce and Patsy Gustafson’s Christmas tree. The “Jolly Ol’ Elf” – himself an expert on toys – understands the psyche of serious collectors like these Polk County farmers.
Bruce and Patsy will be responsible for many expressions of delight around Christmas trees this holiday when folks open brightly colored packages to discover that “rare find” they’ve wanted for so long. The Gustafsons fulfill many Christmas wish lists from their on-farm farm toy shop.
Their store – an out-of-the-way gem in the Northwoods – is named Leaning Pine Farm Toys, for, notes Bruce, the big leaning pine in their driveway. Bruce says everybody suggested they name their farm near Cushing after the crooked tree. They decided to use it for their farm toy business instead.
The Gustafsons have been on their farm 28 years. A life-long farmer, Bruce grew up on a dairy farm a mile up the road. Patsy’s home farm was six miles north, in Burnett County. They’ve raised four children on the farm, which consists of 200 acres. While they sold their 40-cow herd in 2004, they continue to grow corn, soybeans and mainly hay, which they make into big round bales and small squares, mainly for horse customers.
They concentrate on farm toy sales now, in addition to working their “day jobs.” Bruce drives truck, delivering lumber locally. Patsy is the office manager for the feed department at Burnett Dairy in Burnett County. Their well-stocked on-farm toy store is open “by appointment or chance,” says Bruce, “except in the winter, when I lay myself off.” When the snow flies, he stays in the shop “90 percent of the time,” which he built.
The Gustafsons are working on developing a website. They handle many requests for toy tractors over phone or computer and ship all over the U.S. They also exhibit at 20 some farm toy shows a year in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“If we can’t find it, we’ll steer them to a dealer who does have it,” says Bruce of aiming to please.
Bruce has been collecting farm toys for 20 years. It all started when he was having coffee at his folks’ one day. He happened to see an ad for a John Deere A with a man on it and mentioned to his mother that “it’d be kind of neat to have.” He didn’t give the purchase any serious thought, though, seeing as how, Bruce notes, “We didn’t have a whole lot of money, what with a young family and all.
Leave it to a mother. Low and behold, she’d ordered the 1/16th-scale tractor and surprised Bruce with it. “If she only knew what she’d started,” says Bruce. His mother, Margaret, passed away prior to he and Patsy amassing their extensive collection and opening Leaning Pine Farm Toys. Twenty years later, it’s still his favorite toy tractor – along with “ones my wife and kids have given me.”
Like every other farm kid, Bruce played with farm toys as a kid. His were inexpensive. He had an erector set and built his own toys.
When asked how he got so deeply involved in collecting farm toys – and what he enjoys about the hobby – Bruce admits, “I don’t know how to answer that. I got obsessed.” While he “can’t have everything I want” (due to the price tags), Bruce says he buys what he can afford. “That’s hard,” he adds.
The Gustafsons have, however, been able to purchase many of the pieces they’ve wanted in the last two decades. They have an estimated 350 pieces in their shared collection. They specialize in Olivers. In addition, they own over 100 pedal tractors.
They purchased their first pedal tractor 10 years ago at an auction. Today, they have the entire line of Allis pedal tractors and most of the Olivers. Bruce says they’re missing two – an open grill 88 and an 1800 checkerboard. They also have John Deeres and Internationals and have all but one Case – the VAC. Some of the pedal tractors are displayed on the top shelf that encircles the on-farm toy shop.
As for full-size tractors, Bruce says he has an Oliver 77, a John Deere A (the larger version of that very first toy purchased for him by his mom), and an International M, the tractor with which he started farming. Bruce, 54, says he never drove an Oliver until he bought that 77. It’s just one of those things – his fascination with Oliver toy tractors.
Bruce prefers concentrating on toys. He and Patsy own some very rare pedal tractors (only 100 to 125 produced). As for smaller toy tractors, he has some pieces made by Arcade, which date back to the mid ‘30s; the company went out of business in the early ‘40s. “Arcade stuff is hard to find,” he notes.
Also very collectible are Vindex farm toys, from the ‘20s and ‘30s. They can be worth several thousand dollars each.
Ertl is, of course, the big name in farm toys. Others are Scale Models and Spec-Cast, says Bruce.
This collector estimates they have over 1,000 pieces for sale, from antiques from the Great Depression era to brand new toy tractors and equipment. They’re planning a holiday open house at the store Dec. 3 and 4. Saturday hours will be 9 to 5, and they’ll be open that Sunday from noon to 5. They’ll serve lunch, have door prizes and give hay rides. They invite their fellow farmers to pay a visit.
The Gustafsons buy whole collections. For Bruce, that’s the “most fun” he has. He likes talking to the collectors about how and why they amassed their individual toy tractor collections. For the most part, Bruce notes, toy tractor collectors are a pretty friendly, helpful lot – like the Gustafsons themselves.
“You soon learn which dealers you can deal with and which you can’t,” Bruce remarks. “For the most part, they’re just out to have a good time and are extremely friendly.” Bruce says a lot of their customers at Leaning Pine Farm Toys are serious collectors. However, they also serve folks with little knowledge of the hobby, who simply want to buy some farm toys for children or grandchildren. If they don’t carry something somebody wants, the Gustafsons try to source it. They have many standing orders from folks who hope these farm toy experts will be able to eventually source a certain desired piece for them.
Many people come in looking for a toy tractor they played with as a kid, or a replica of Grandpa’s old farm tractor. Chances are Leaning Pine Farm Toys will have what a person is after. They carry a myriad of makes and models, all scales, and various toy farm buildings, too.
Bruce says they’ll purchase every year the Two Cylinder Club’s John Deere model. They also collect some of the Farm Technology Days commemorative toy tractors. Some years, those tractors are more collectible than others, he notes.
Bruce remarks that the 1/16th-scale tractors are the most popular. There are also 1/43, 1/32 and 1/64s. The latter are also very popular; Leaning Pine Farm Toys carry a lot of those.
Bruce and Patsy exhibited at their first farm toy show four years ago. They admit they weren’t sure whether they’d like it or not. As it turned out, they were hooked, and every year since, they’ve logged thousands of miles attending shows. This year, they were at the national Oliver show in Baraboo. They go every June to the Rice Lake Hungry Hollow Steam Show and every July to the Hutchinson Spectacular in Minnesota. And November brings the granddaddy of them all in Dyersville, Iowa. The Gustafsons are on a waiting list to get into that national event as vendors. They go every year “to look,” notes Bruce.
Farm toy shows are social events as much as they are business venues. They love hearing collectors reminisce. While Internet and eBay sales are the wave of the future, they’re lacking an important element – the human element – folks who share a passion for collecting farm toys, discussing their latest finds and pieces-hoped for and simply enjoying being in one another’s company. Most farm toy collectors have grown up on farms.
Even with a lot of experience, this farm toy collector says he still inadvertently winds up selling some pieces for far less than he later finds out they were worth. He “grins and bears it.” On the other hand, he’s also lucked into his share of “good deals,” and been able to sell those at a fair price and come out ahead. He confides that if you can “find the right antique store,” a novice collector might also be treated to a good deal or two.
Bruce notes that the box is worth 50 percent of the value in many cases, particularly for older toy tractors. Then it becomes a matter of “the better the box, the more it’s worth,” he remarks.
Just as the Gustafsons have farmed together side-by-side so many years, this Polk County couple also share a mutual love for farm toys. “She loves it as much as I do, maybe even more,” says Bruce of Patsy’s propensity for collecting and buying and selling toy tractors.
Patsy says she enjoys buying and selling more so than “just collecting.” It’s the thrill of the hunt, says a farmwife, who, by the way, also hunts Wisconsin whitetails with a gun every November.
Patsy says she is especially after finding “unique little things,” which she refers to as “eye-catchers.” She enjoys trying to match the toy to the person, sleuthing that special piece that’ll truly make them happy.
Never mind that her china closet is filler with toy tractors instead of fancy dishes. As the kids have moved out, shelves have gone up in their rooms to display farm toys. She gets a kick out of seeing how collectors display their collections.
Bruce has refinished four pedal tractors – one for each of their four children That’s no small feat, considering that he has a lung condition that’s irritated by paint fumes. That’s why Patsy’s “expertise” is cutting and unloading hay on their farm; the dust bothers Bruce.
Though she helps with the fieldwork, she doesn’t particularly enjoy the big tractors and equipment. “The toys don’t break down,” she wryly remarks.
As for her own favorites, Patsy mentions a couple of custom Oliver pedal tractors.
“Bruce knows more what they’re worth. I look for unique – and he knows what we should pay for it,” she grins.
Both husband and wife agree that Bruce is the more conservative. Patsy has purchased a couple pedal tractors herself. Bruce thought they should pass on the purchase, feeling they were too high-priced. Patsy, however, informed him that she’d buy them herself then.
Patsy invites Agri-View readers to their open house, or to just contact them with questions at 715-648-5569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Their farm and farm toy store is four miles north of Cushing. Go two miles north on 240th Street. Take a right onto 270th. Go one mile and take a left on 230th. Look for the leaning pine at the second place on the left.
Toyless Kid Now Surrounded by Them
Burnett County Sentinel, December 22, 2004
By Todd Beckmann
CUSHING- “I never had much to play with as a kid.” Bruce Gustafson explains. “but I guess I’m making up for it now.”
Making up for it now is a little tongue-in-cheek for a man with hundreds of farm toys that he can play with anytime he wants.
Bruce Gustafson said he was 32 when he got his first farm toy. “I was admiring a John Deere tractor in a magazine one day when I was having coffee with my mother,” he said, “but Patsy (his wife) and I had four young kids and we didn’t have any money.”
Not too much later a package arrived in the mail from his mother containing the tractor. “That’s the tractor I always wanted when I was a kid,” Bruce Gustafson admits.
It’s not that Bruce Gustafson has a large personal collection of toys, but that initial toy is what started the Gustafsons collecting farm toys.
At one point, Patsy Gustafson said she urged Bruce to buy an entire collection from a Grantsburg man. “It was only 20 or 22 pieces,” Bruce Gustafson recalls, “but we had to take out a small business loan.”
And it’s not just Bruce enjoying the hobby. Patsy Gustafson likes the collecting too.
“It’s fun collecting these toys,” she says, “we have time we can enjoy them ourselves before we pass them on to others to enjoy.”
“When we first started selling toys about five years ago,” Bruce Gustafson said, “we decided to start Leaning Pine Farm Toys and try to make a living at it.”
While the Gustafsons may not be able to retire with their profits from the business, it does pay for itself. To help make ends meet, Bruce does seasonal work at Bass Lake Lumber while Patsy works full-time at Burnett Dairy Co-op.
Bruce Gustafson said the farm toy business is geared to the farming season and to farmers. That’s why most of the toy shows they sell at are in the first third of the year when farmers are not focused on their farms.
Patsy Gustafson said that they did their first show in Turtle Lake five years ago. “We loved it so much we started planning where we’d go for our next show,” she said.
The Gustafsons started selling at shows about the same time they started selling toys five years ago and are now doing between 15 and 20 shows a year. “We just got a Minnesota license and for the first time we did shows there this year,” Patsy Gustafson said.
She added that the shows are a lot of fun. “It’s exciting,” she said with a smile, “we’ll get to a show and it’s a gym full of toys.”
“Most of the time,” Patsy Gustafson continued, “people want (the toy replica of) what their grandpa had when he was farming.”
“People contact is a big part of the business,” Bruce Gustafson explained. As they travel to the different shows, they see the same vendors and have the time to catch up with each other.
In addition to the toy shows, the Gustafsons also host an open house the first weekend of December. The open house is a chance for the Gustafsons to showcase their toy shed. Given the timing, one might think Christmas is a big season for the farm toy business. “A majority of the people at our open house are collectors,” Bruce Gustafson said.
“Collectors can find stuff here they can’t find any other place,” he continued.
Bruce Gustafson said he has even had collectors calling him looking for a particular model of toy, he said, “and sometimes it’s a real challenge to find.”
He said John Deere is the most popular line of farm toys, and there is a lot of product available, International is the second most popular, but Leaning Pine also carries Allis-Chalmers, Oliver and other obscure names, not to mention the pedal tractors.
“There are some farm toys that the manufacturer’s only made a 100 pieces of,” Bruce Gustafson said, “and they are very hard to come by.”
Patsy Gustafson, who likes to say the business is open by chance or appointment, said the couple doesn’t have set hours so they don’t have to be home all the time.
“We want to keep this as a hobby,” she explained, “so we can keep enjoying it.”
Bruce Gustafson agrees with enjoying the business. “This is something we’ve always wanted to do,” he said.
Bruce and Patsy are having so much fun that they sold their dairy herd three months ago to be able to devote more time to their farm toy business. Having been dairy farmers for 30 years, one would think they’d miss it. “I miss the cows,” Bruce Gustafson said with a smile, “but not the chores.”
Collecting Hobby Turns into Farm Toy Business
The Country Today, December 8, 2004
By Heidi Clausen
CUSHING – It’s not quite Santa’s workshop – and they bear no resemblance to the jolly old elf and his wife – but Bruce and Patsy Gustafson have been hard at work this holiday season, fulfilling the wish lists of area toy farmers.
Although it’s well off the beaten path, the Gustafsons’ Leaning Pine Farm Toys has become a must-find destination for farm toy collectors. Many people shopped for stocking stuffers Dec. 4-5 at the couple’s second annual Christmas open house, which included door prizes, lunch and discounts.
The rest of the year, they’re open by chance or appointment.
“We might go a month without seeing anybody,” Mr. Gustafson said of their store in rural Polk County.
About 20 times a year, the Gustafsons go to their customers, filling their trailer to the roof with boxes of toys to sell or trade at toy shows throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The Gustafsons recently sold their 35-cow dairy herd to focus more on farm toys.
Dealing in toys requires patience and hard work and, as the Gustafsons attest, it’s not wildly profitable. But the couple is hard pressed to put a value on the fun they have, hunting for the next addition to their own collection and visiting with dealers and collectors.
“It pays its own way,” Mr. Gustafson said with a smile.
He was hooked on the farm toy hobby almost 20 years ago when his mother, Margaret, gave him his first farm toy – a 1/16th-scale John Deere A that continues to be his favorite piece because of the close relationship he shared with his mother, who has since died.
“He was admiring it in a magazine when he was having coffee with her one day,” Mrs. Gustafson said. “We had no money to buy toys, with young kids.”
“I had wished my dad would have bought one” for the farm, Mr. Gustafson said.
Growing up on the farm, he didn’t have very many toys to play with, he recalled. Now he can “play” with toys all day.
Since that first special tractor, he has picked up toys here and there. Olivers are his weakness. The couple’s collection includes about 300 farm toys of various scales and 100 pedal tractors.
As their collection grew, the couple decided a few years ago to try buying and selling some toys. They acquired their first toys from a man looking to sell his entire personal collection.
“I encouraged him to buy that first collection; the money will come from someplace,” Mrs. Gustafson said.
“I’m the conservative one,” Mr. Gustafson added.
They still buy most of their toys from area collectors selling entire collections, but they also pick up rare finds and handmade toys to offer a broad mix of all brands – new and old, big and small.
Specialty pieces usually sell right away, they said, while the shelf models are a little harder to move. Inventory is rotated about every year.
To stay competitively priced, the Gustafsons keep up with books and magazines.
“We’re pretty close to the auctioneer when buying collections,” he said.
They set up at their first toy show in October 2001, in Turtle Lake.
“We didn’t think we’d like it,” Mr. Gustafson remembers, “but we came home and started planning for Colfax,” which has a show in February.
Each year, the couple logs thousands of miles traveling to shows, usually on Sundays. They have left as early as 2 a.m. to drive to a show, where setup alone can take a couple of hours. The farthest they have driven is Randolph, six hours away.
One of their most successful and busiest shows this year was the three-day Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in September.
But shows aren’t all work and no play for the Gustafsons, who view the events more as a social gathering. It’s also an opportunity to network and learn from other dealers.
“It’s our outing,” she said.
They try to schedule a few toy shows in areas where their four grown children live, so they can stop by.
They agree that the best part of the shows is the almost instant camaraderie with fellow toy collectors, who often reminisce about certain tractors or implements they grew up with on the farm.
The Gustafsons have many standing orders from collectors who would like them to locate a certain piece for them.
Mrs. Gustafson has grown to love the hobby just as much as her husband does.
“It’s nice when both of us enjoy it, otherwise it wouldn’t be much fun,” Mr. Gustafson adds.
After the first couple years, she picked up many of the tools of the trade and doesn’t “panic when he leaves the table” at a toy show.
Like many other businesses, farm toy sales follow the ebb and flow of the general economy, the Gustafsons said.
“You could tell the economy was bad two years ago. The extra money wasn’t there to buy toys,” Mrs. Gustafson said, but “it’s coming back.”
Internet sales, through Web sites such as eBay, cut into their business, she said, but online shoppers often miss out on an important part of the hobby – the conversation.
“We have the knowledge on farm toys,” she said.
What once was a sideline business to the dairy farm has grown into an almost full-time venture, forcing them to make the difficult decision to sell the cows this fall.
“We’re too busy to miss them,” said Mr. Gustafson, who had farmed about 30 years.
“This is still just a hobby, but it’s also time-consuming,” he said. “When we went to shows, we had to hire someone to do chores, so we didn’t make any money – or lost – but we had fun.”
To supplement the farm toy income, Mr. Gustafson works part time at a lumberyard; Mrs. Gustafson is office manager at Burnett Dairy in Alpha.
After operating in their cramped garage for a couple of years, they erected their small store in 2003, with an entire wall devoted to John Deere, which continues to be the hot seller.
“We had a lot of neighbors stop in because they thought we were nuts,” Mrs. Gustafson said.
“There are people who can’t believe there’s a market to sell toys and that there’s a whole gymnasium full of dealers (at the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa) where people pay to come in and buy toys,” he adds.
Also as business has grown, the Gustafsons have found they have less time and funds to put toward their own collection.
“Our own collection is not growing as fast,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean they have stopped looking. There are still many pedal tractors they’d like to add to their collection, if the right bargain comes along.
“A collector is never done collecting; they’re always looking for another piece. That part of me will never leave. I’ll always be a collector at heart,” he said.
“We want it to stay fun and not become work,” he said.