Because they were made in nearby Manitowoc, the Kaysun line of farm toy equipment has proven to be Dale Swoboda’s favorite among much competition.
Photo By Ray Mueller
Collector's passion for farm toys spans more than six decades
"Sometimes my passion overtakes me. I can't let go," Dale Swoboda says of his hobby of collecting toy farm tractors, equipment, and a variety of related materials which serve "to tell a story."
That passion has resulted in a very large private collections of toy farm tractors and other equipment.
After nearly six decades of building his collection, Swoboda wants to make sure that his contribution to that history depicted in his collection isn't lost.
Swoboda could fairly be described as a living encyclopedia of that history. At a moment's notice, he can recite the name, dates and locations of dozens of farm equipment manufacturers and their equivalents in the toy world.
Housed in a shed built nearly six years ago as a way to obtain more space and to move the collection from the basement at his home in Two Rivers, Swoboda's collection dates to a 1940s model John Deere toy tractor that he received as a gift when he was three years old. Though a share of its paint has worn off, he still has that toy in his collection today.
Change of Pace Envisioned
After assembling tens of thousands of units, Swoboda realizes that he needs to gear down as a change of pace to the hobby that he has pursued.
One project he is planning is to have his son Jason record a three- to four-hour video with Swoboda narrating a portion of his personal history of the collection and how it serves to illustrate the local and state roots that many of the tractors and farm implements have.
What Swoboda realizes and marvels at is Wisconsin's extensive history in the production of farm equipment, especially with tractors and forage choppers. Because awareness of that heritage fades as the years pass, he hopes that, with the support of the Wisconsin Historical Society or some other organization(s), a comprehensive history will be written of the state's role in the farm equipment field.
Swoboda's collection could be a good starting point for any such venture. His array of toy units has been augmented with posters, advertisements, photos, newspaper clippings and books - all of which help to tell and preserve the history that Swoboda is anxious to share.
Wisconsin a Top Player
Wisconsin's contribution to that history, dating to the latter decades of the 1800s, has been immense, Swoboda observes. He is so impressed with Wisconsin's role in the farm equipment business that he has a special section of units originating in the state in his collection.
Swoboda lists Milwaukee entrepreneur John Appleby's devising and launching of the twine knitter from 1858-1876, the founding of the Minneapolis-Moline company in Fond du Lac, and the Wisconsin roots of continued presence of such well-known brands as Case, Allis, John Deere, Cockshutt, Oliver/Hart-Parr at Madison and Gehl of West Bend, along with regional companies such as Brillion, Fox, Kasten, H&S, Eis and Gratz.
Although they represent only a very small part of his collection and are certainly not a household name in farm equipment or even among collectors, Swoboda says his favorites are the orange colored Kaysun brand units, many of which came as kits that needed to be assembled. The reason for his choice is that the Kaysun farm equipment was made by a company in Manitowoc.
Swoboda mentions several other local connections that he treasures in his collection. They include the pea viners and other canning crop equipment made by the Frank Hamachek Machine Co. in Kewaunee, a manufacturer at Algoma, the Ben Franklin store in Algoma, which sold New Holland and Ford models, and the farm toys such as the Oliver and Allis brands that were sold at the former DeTemple's 5 & 10 store in Kewaunee - some of the latter still bearing price tags such as $1.49 and $1.98.
Over the years, however, the prices for many of the toys at similar sizes have escalated to between $10-$12 - far too expensive for many children to start a collecting hobby, Swoboda points out. For that reason, he credits the Matchbox company for stepping into the market with toys priced at about $5 instead.
Dyersville a Farm Toy Mecca
The farm toy phenomenon owes its existence to the Ertl Co., which began making the model units in 1945 at its headquarters in Dyersville, IA, Swoboda indicates. The Ertl firm was sold to the Toma company of Japan in 2011, but family member Joe Ertl branched off to continue making scale models, he points out.
Four companies, three of them based at Dyersville, account for the bulk of the farm toy market today. The other three are Universal Hobbies, SpecCast and Scale Models. Swoboda notes that companies other than the farm equipment manufacturers are making the toy models.
Other toy companies which have come and gone did, nonetheless, contribute to the legacy, Swoboda observes. He mentions the Massey Harris units made by Ruehl Toys of Madison, by the Canada-based Lincoln company, and by the Slik firm, along with the Plymouth Foundry's crop cutter business that was acquired by Ruehl.
The impetus for collecting those toys, however, came with the founding of Toy Farmer magazine - with an initial subscription list of 35 - by Claire Scheibe at LaMoure, ND, in 1978, Swoboda says. "That got us going."
Family ties have also been an important part of Swoboda's inspiration. Some of his toys recall the tractors and equipment used on the farm when it was operated by his father and grandfather.
That farm has been in the family, which has a Czech heritage, since 1867. Silver fox were raised there and dairy farming continued until the late 1980s (Swoboda has models of milking machines in his collection).
In Swoboda's collection, John Deere units are the most numerous, but there are also large sections showing the progression of the tractors and field equipment for all of the other major brands.
Among the other facts at his command, Swoboda can recite the history of how several of those brand lines became part of the giant international AGCO firm, which is based in Europe.
Swoboda credits the John Deere company for maintaining its independence for 175 years because of good management decisions which emphasized a diversity of product lines. That diversity includes lawn and garden tractors, construction equipment, chain saws, forestry equipment and gators, he notes.
Numerous special or one-time items are also sprinkled throughout Swoboda's collection. Among them are models of the Case Spirit of 1976 (red, white and blue paint) and of the International Harvester 300 tractor that Elvis Presley drove.
In another case, a box with a picture of Eddie Albert and Ava Gabor is worth 10 times the Fordson toy tractor that it contained, Swoboda says.
He also has several farmyard displays, featuring a variety of barn design styles, which also include the farm equipment models made by the Tonka company of Minnesota that were sold at Wal-Mart but which have apparently disappeared from the market today.
Full Set of Farm Tech
Swoboda's collection also includes a complete set of the farm equipment models that have been sold in conjunction with Wisconsin Farm Technology Days (previously Farm Progress Days) since that practice began in 1994. This year's model being sold by the show Outagamie County hosts is a Fox chopper that was made in Appleton.
There's also a limited international dimension to Swoboda's collection. These include models of some Svoboda equipment that was made in The Netherlands for about 30 years, an IH 45 baler that was made in France (a unit also used on his home farm), and a few Czech toy units.
Numbers are also important to Swoboda in several respects. He points to his 27 consecutive years of attending the farm toy summer show in early June at Dyersville to his anticipated 35th consecutive year of attending the National Farm Toy Show in the autumn when the attendees "take over the town" in Dyersville.
When he goes to a show where he sets up a display, about 10 times per year, Swoboda chooses items from his collection that jibe with an anniversary of a company (John Deere's 100 years at Horicon in 2011, for example), that correspond with the theme that many shows have, or that pertain to the geography of the show's location.
As if the commercial supply of model toys wasn't adequate, Swoboda notes that his grandfather made a pedal toy tractor.
"If there were no toys, we made some," he recalls.
After leaving the farm, Swoboda had stints in the military service and as an artificial breeding inseminator before beginning a 34-year career with the water department at Two Rivers, where he advanced to position of head of water distribution. During those years, the farm toy collection flourished.
For his convenience and somewhat as a relief for his wife Janet, Swoboda was able to move the collection to the new shed several years ago. Renovation has begun on the house on that property. The Swobodas hope to move there in retirement.
Sharing the History
As for the collection itself, Swoboda realizes that, except for a granddaughter and her friends who enjoy visiting it, he doesn't have anyone in line to take it over and that the time will eventually come to scale it down to the originals he enjoyed as a child.
He mentions making some of the items available at upcoming shows, taking part in national auctions, and donating to historical museums.
Swoboda is counting on help from "the many contacts" he has made through the years when he downsizes his collection. Those contacts began as a member of the FFA - a connection he still cherishes as he mentions the upcoming Kewaunee FFA Alumni truck and tractor pull on Sept. 8.
The Heritage Days which will be held at the fairgrounds in Luxemburg is another of Swoboda's favorite events. He points out that in 2013 he will have been its co-chair for 20 years.
Swoboda also enjoys his connection with the Heritage Farm, located along Highway 42 between Two Rivers and Kewaunee, that is operated by Agricultural Heritage & Resources, Inc. He is vice-president of that organization. He can be reached by phone at 920-323-3323.
Want to know the origin of the word "tractor?" Swoboda can answer that too. It dates to 1906 as a shortening of the previous term "gasoline traction engine."