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    Farm Toys | Winter 2011 Out Here Magazine

    Collector, restorer gives new life to old tractors, trucks, and implements

    Bob Siefke with his collection
    The farm toy collection is heavy on John Deere, because Siefke initially focused on collecting the kinds of tractors that he farmed with for 30 years — mostly John Deere and International Harvester. His favorites also include Massey Ferguson.
    Out Here

    By Dee Goerge

    Photography by Allan Dietrich

    When Bob Siefke and his wife, Marilyn, built their new home, they also constructed a shed containing a 20x20 toy room. Not for grandchildren; for BobÕs colossal farm toy collection.

    For more than two decades, Siefke, 73, of Gibsonburg, Ohio, has collected about 1,500 toy tractors and implements, pedal toys, and toy semi trucks and trailers.

    His favorite models — John Deere, International Harvester, and Massey-Ferguson — mingle with tractors of all colors on 10 shelves around the roomÕs perimeter. Thirty pedal tractors and more toy displays fill the center.

    The collecting bug started when a co-worker invited the Siefkes to play cards with her and her husband, a collector of farm toys. When Siefke showed interest, the husband invited him to a toy show the following weekend. He was hooked.

    "I (initially) kind of bought what I farmed with," he says, "which was mostly John Deere and IH." He grew up on a farm and then farmed for 30 years with Marilyn. The couple raised crops on 300 acres and tomatoes and pickles for a local cannery. They also raised 300-400 pigs a year, and Siefke worked at a farm supply store.

    In 1995, Siefke quit farming and continued to work at the store. Since 2000, he's been with the Tractor Supply store in Fremont, Ohio.

    Through the years, his toy hobby continued to grow and diversify. He was soon buying "whatever I liked." That meant different models and implements such as old corn planters — mostly in 1/16th scale.

    But Siefke also figured out a way to help pay for his hobby. He initially paid others to restore some of his flea market finds, but was encouraged by his son, David, to do his own restorations. Siefke had many natural fix-it skills as a farmer, and he liked the challenge of fixing toys for himself and others.

    "I take them all apart, sandblast the pieces, and put on new tires and new paint," Siefke says. David, he adds, frequently works alongside him.

    The creative part comes with customizing toys — adding fenders, lights, three-point hitches, and other parts to make the toys look like real tractors and equipment.

    The creative part comes with customizing toys — adding fenders, lights, three-point hitches, and other parts to make the toys look like real tractors and equipment. One of his favorite personal pieces is a 4WD John Deere 7520 that he customized with dual wheels, a muffler, and air cleaner.

    "I like that tractor, because it was the first one I bought and farmed with," Siefke says.

    He buys new parts and picks up junk toys and cheap toys at flea markets to create toys such as a pair of 8630 John Deere 4WD industrial tractors complete with chrome stacks. He painted Silver King tractors red — after a line of real models painted red. He also customizes trucks to match the real ones in customersÕ fleets.

    "People go for stuff like that," Siefke says. "I painted one IH tractor pink for a grandmother for her granddaughter. That's the strangest; I had never painted a tractor pink in my life."

    TOY SHOWS

    Siefke sells his restored and customized toys at seven to 10 toy shows every year. It's a family affair with his sons, David and Kevin. The show in Fremont is one Siefke started 27 years ago that has grown to as many as 100 dealers setting up in three buildings over two days in March.

    "People come for miles around," Siefke says. "One guy comes from Canada. He farms and can't make other big shows (held during the growing/harvest season). He says it's like the national show."

    These farm toy shows attract serious collectors, and Siefke is among those looking for toys to add to his collection.

    But sometimes, the best finds are at rummage sales and flea markets. Marilyn pointed out a Ford toy tractor at a flea market that Siefke dismissed at first because it was plastic. He prefers to collect metal toys. As they were leaving, he saw that the tractor was still there and bought it from the vendor for $5. It turned out to be a wind-up tractor in excellent condition that was quite valuable.

     

    Though he doesn't usually purchase new plastic toys for himself, he likes to see parents and grandparents buy toy tractors for children. At first they play with them, but eventually they may become collectors.

    "I think it's a good hobby to get into. Someday it might be worth some money. Start out with 1/64th scale, and then jump up to something bigger," Siefke suggests.

    His collection has brought him great pleasure, he says. Instead of watching television, you'll find him working on projects and hanging out in his toy room.

    Dee Goerge is a Minnesota writer.

     

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