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.
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 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.
Website Copyright 2012 by CrexTechs