MOWRYSTOWN — The Mowrystown FFA will host its annual Farm Toy show Feb. 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Whiteoak High School. Numerous collectors have plans to share their wares. Exhibits will range from simple shelves of the much sought-after models to elaborate displays on layouts of farm sites. Competition in both the adult and student divisions is a highlight of the event, but it’s the “people you meet and the connections you make” while it’s all going on that makes the day for members of the Southwestern Ohio Farm Toy Collectors Club, according to Don Kelley, a founding member of that group.
For Kelley, it all started in 1950 when he received a John Deere model as a graduation present. He “bleeds green” according to his pal, Jim Gorman. Gorman, a dedicated Ford tractor guy, met Kelley when they both worked for the postal service in addition to farming. One day, Gorman planned to get some seed beans at Kelley’s farm southeast of Hillsboro. It was raining, so Kelley said, “You can’t plant beans in the rain. You might as well come up and look at the toys.” He did, and he was hooked. They started talking with their friends and discovered several others who were interested in collecting the model tractors, wagons and other machinery. They decided to see if they could form a club.
“We rented the New Market Township House and thought only a dozen fellows would come. It was standing room only,” Gorman said. “And then somebody decided to make some coffee.”
Here Kelley took up the story, commenting that “no one who was there will ever forget that, at least as long as I live.”
Gorman and Kelley had minimal experience with coffee pots for large crowds.“We found the fill line for the water and that seemed okay,” said Kelly and then Gorman chimed in, “and it said it was a 32-cup pot. The coffee can said it made 30 cups, so we dumped the whole can of coffee in.”
“Most of that coffee went down the drain,” Kelley concluded. Yet out of this meeting a club was born that has produced a record of 49 toy shows including the one they will host in August this year.
The initial group was led by Charlie Walker, who was named president, Walker’s son Jim, Kelley, Gorman and Randy Menzler. They have met on the first Tuesday of the month ever since, even when that Tuesday is on New Year’s Day as it was this year when 22 of the group got together. They set the dues at $10 a year and as the calendar progresses and the shows get nearer, more and more of the regulars, as many as 50, begin to appear.
Stories to tell
One of those regulars these days is Dean Everetts, who chides his two friends about their devotion to Ford and Deere. “I had one of those green things the first year I started in farming,” Everetts said, “and it didn’t take me long to see the light,” which is Oliver orange in his book. At 85, that’s been a long love affair with Oliver. The teasing goes on yet the truth is that all of them have some of “those other” brands in their collections.
All of these farmers started sharing their love of tractors at pulls, then moved into antique tractor shows, and finally have come to spend most of their leisure time collecting, selling, building and repairing the toys. Kelley collects and Everetts makes toys for his friends, but they say they don’t sell these days, and Gorman is most focused on building new toys that he would rather keep.
Gorman finds some of the materials for his repairs in “junk boxes under the tables at shows, but those are drying up,” he said. Yet even though they are not in the market, so to speak, they keep their eyes on the prices as they walk around the shows and visit.
Sometimes “if it’s a good deal, you get it when you see it because next time [you walk around the show] it’s gone,” Kelley said.
And they tell stories
These old friends have a wealth of stories to share about their collections, their friendships and the people they’ve met over the years. “We’ve met a lot of people and we’ve had a lot of fun,” Kelley said.
Gorman picked up the thought, “We had a man who read about Don in Toy Farmer [magazine]. He called up and said he wanted to come to our show.” It turned out that Toy Farmer Charlie lives in Vermont.
“So [Charlie] went down to Albany, New York,” Kelley continued, “and caught the train to Cleveland. From Cleveland he got a bus to Athens,” switched buses to come to Seaman. “He called and said to meet him at the bus stop in Seaman. I didn’t know there was a bus stop in Seaman, but there is.”
So Kelley went to find Charlie. They hit it off right away on the ride back to Hillsboro, and during the course of the show, Charlie bought a lot of toys. The only problem was, he hadn’t brought anything to pack them into for the trip back to Vermont. Kelley remembered he had some old suitcases. “I don’t know why I’d saved them,” Kelley chuckled, “but we packed them full of toys and off he went.” Charlie was afraid the bus company was going to charge him a lot to ship the suitcases, but apparently they didn’t. “And when he got home, he called and said that everyone here had treated him so nice, he’s coming back. I suppose he’ll be here in August.”
Connecting with the youngsters
Originally, the group set up their displays and invited others to join them at fairgrounds. This became too expensive, so they started looking for new venues. They started helping the Mowrystown FFA when the first show the FFA students planned fell on the day of a heavy snow.
“We thought no one would show up,” Everetts said. FFA Alumni Milt Simmons was “running that snow plow back and forth and he was soaked clear through.”
The club decided to kick in some money to help them out and “that’s all we’ve ever given them. The FFA gets all the profits [from this show]. Those kids come in awful handy” when it’s time to set up tables, Kelley said, “but we’ve got to get some young blood into the group.”
“I think they’re coming,” Gorman observed. “The displays are interesting…that the kids set up. And they have to explain what’s in the displays. They’re learning and getting practice standing up and talking in front of the strangers. It’s great what the kids can design now. They know things about the machinery I don’t even know.”
The Mowrystown show is growing. This year the displays are expanding out of the gymnasium and into the student center/cafeteria at the high school. “So many places they pack ‘em in so tight they don’t have room to walk,” said Kelley, adding that being so close really gets in the way of everyone visiting and really seeing what’s there to see.
“It’s a really good time. They work hard and we have a lot of fun,” Gorman concluded, “so everyone should come.”