Toy builder remembers

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Retired Oconomowoc teacher and administrator Dave Engen had polio as a child. Because of the disease, he was unable to take over his parent's dairy farm in South Dakota as he had hoped.

In the years that followed, however, he set out to preserve the memories of that farm by collecting or making toy tractors and implements like his dad used on the family farm.

He was at the Ixonia Vintage Tractor show on Memorial Day weekend at the request of show organizers who were eager to have his display because Case was the featured brand at the show.

Engen said he doesn't go to a lot of shows like this. Instead, he would rather take his collection to retirement communities and nursing homes; talk with the older folks about the equipment; and reminisce with them about when these pieces were used on the farm.

'I collect replicas of all the pieces I remember,' he said.

A particular favorite is a toy replica of a grain binder he remembers.

'My job was to sit on the seat and make sure there was oil on the parts,' he said as he pointed out the various working parts on the piece that he built.

'It took about 170 hours to build this grain binder, but it was not work, it was a labor of love,' he added.

Engen often gets requests to build a piece for someone.

'I could make many of these and sell them,' he said, 'but that would be work, and I'd have to meet a deadline to get it done. I enjoy making these because it is my way of remembering my youth on the farm.'

He also brought a Case model 'P' corn picker with husking bed. He customized the toy by starting with an IH 1-PR corn picker made by the Ertl Toy Company and then adding parts made from brass stock and aluminum and changing the color to make the piece look like the Case corn picker he remembered.

A Case 630 toy tractor began as a John Deere Ertl toy. 'Ertl never made a 630 Case toy tractor, and I wanted a tractor with a loader like I remember on our farm,' Engen said.

Other models include a Case M series tractor with a mounted plow, a grain elevator, a 330 Case baler, a Case windrower that he built from scratch and a Case A combine.

A special piece is a model truck like his dad used on the farm. It was a 1929 4-door sedan Model A that his dad made into a utility truck. Engen modified a toy Hubley Model A to replicate the truck his dad used.

The pieces in his collection are from the 1940-1960 era on the farm.

'The equipment was much different than it is now,' he said.' Today there are guards and many safety features, and they are designed for efficiency. They are also much bigger today.'

Engen believes he could have stayed on his family farm despite his illness if he would have been able to use today's modern equipment.

'Farm work was a lot harder physically then, and nothing was automated,' he said. 'I could not have handled the equipment then.'