Typical children’s toys still bring joy to three Greene County toy aficionados, even though they are all grown up.
Legos, tractors, cultivators, a tin plane and a pedal tractor have the ability to evoke feelings of accomplishment and tickle brain matter, as well as bring back family memories and reflections on childhood for Duane Russell, Reagan Osborne and Doyle Carlson, all of Jefferson.
Not in the sandbox
Duane Russell grins when he talks about his toy tractor collection, which might seem at odds with his job as chief technical officer at Jefferson Telecom in Jefferson.
“I have more than 1,000 tractors in my collection, but just a few on display,” Russell says.
He traces his love of the die-cast figures to the toys he had as a child.
“I had a few sandbox toys, but I played with most of the toys inside, so they didn’t get ruined,” he says. “My mother still has the boxes some of my toys came in.”
Russell kept his collection from childhood, adding a piece here and there when he saw one he liked or was given a toy as a Christmas present. But it wasn’t until he met his future father-in-law that he began seriously collecting.
Unlike Russell, his father-in-law had a large collection of sandbox-sized toys. Sandbox-sized toys refer to the larger 16th-scale toys that children use in the sandbox or dirt. The toys are small enough to play with but large enough to scoop sand or blade dirt.
The two of them began attending toy shows. That was in the 1980s, a time when there weren’t a lot of new tractor models to buy, Russell says.
“I had about 100 tractors for a long time because there just weren’t that many new model tractors coming out,” he says.
But then there was an explosion of production, and with it an explosion of his collection, mostly toys made by Ertl Toy Co. The majority of his toy collection is made up of Case International.
“I like red,” he says. “I think it also has something to do with Case International being the hometown implement dealership.”
Russell grew in the Keosauqua area, where Case international was the predominant implement used by farmers.
“In the Jefferson area, you see more green implements,” he says of Greene County.
Russell likes the feeling he gets when he looks at or thinks about his toys.
“It does kind of bring out the kid in you,” he says. “It is fun to show people the collection and talk to people about it.”
He has passed that love on to his oldest son. He used to buy his son the model tractors and still attends toy shows with him.
A toy Russell has in addition to the many tractors is a blue metal dump truck with wooden wheels that had been his grandfather’s toy as a child. He also has a story behind one of his larger toys — a pedal tractor.
“The family story is that as soon as I stopped wetting my pants, my folks says they would buy me a pedal tractor,” Russell says.
When Russell turned 21, his father surprised him by buying a pedal tractor at an auction and giving it to him. Of course Russell had held up his end of the bargain years ago.
One might think a collection the size of Russell’s might be bothersome to his wife, Pete. But, she says, she collects her own “toys” including Mickey Mouse memorabilia and crystal.
“I just figure when he buys a piece, I can buy a piece, too,” she says with a shrug and a smile.
Lego satisfaction and AFOLs
There’s no hesitation in Reagan Osborne calling herself an AFOL — Adult Fan of Lego.
“AFOL is a term for all the adults out there who like to play with Legos,” she says. She interacts with other AFOLs online to discuss Legos and to find model plans.
“My son, Mason, is good at making models of his own creation. But, I’m not as good at that, so I like to have the plans and all the pieces to put a Lego model together,” she says.
Reagan’s current project is Parisian restaurant/café. When finished, the model can be added to other models in the series to form a street scene. She pointed out the details of the model, from a person riding a scooter to the lampposts and awnings. Looking at the model from the top reveals detailed pieces creating the interior of the model, including the commercial kitchen.
“One of the things that fascinate me is the use of different Lego pieces to make up a model,” she says, pointing out a piece on the front of the building. “This awning, for example, is made of a gate.”
Reagan doesn’t remember having her own set of Legos as a child, but she particularly remembers playing with her brother’s Legos.
When Mason was born, she began thinking about buying him a Lego set.
“We had to wait until he was old enough that he didn’t think Legos were something to eat,” she says.
Now that Mason is 14, he’s very heavily involved in Lego making. His mother calls his room Lego Land. But she doesn’t mind indulging his love of Lego, in part because of her own attraction to the toys and because of the great learning potential in working with Legos.
Mother and son have shared some of their Lego experience with each other and area youth as well. For three years, Reagan served as a coach for making motorized Lego models and taking what they made to Lego League competitions.
A family friend gave Mason’s first set of Legos to him. Reagan and husband, Rich, began adding sets and pieces over time.
Reagan’s own interest in Legos is evident in her project room in the Osborne’s basement. On a nearby shelf, sits a model of the DeLorean from the movie “Back to the Future.”
“I usually just sit here on the floor to work on my projects,” she says.
Making Lego models gives her a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. She’ll sometimes work on Legos while watching television. It’s difficult to carve out a lot of time with the coffee roasting and coffee house business they own and run in Jefferson called Greene Bean Coffee.
Reagan has combined the two on several occasions and will most likely do the same in the future.
“We had a Lego night at the coffee shop,” she says. “We supplied the Legos, and people came in to play with them and make their own models. We had a lot of fun, and there were people of all ages.”
One of their baristas made a copy of the espresso machine with Legos, while others put together their own creations. Reagan then displayed the models in the coffee shop.
“We had a pretty good turnout. I think we’ll do a Lego night again,” she says.
Toy tractors and farm equipment reflect life
Doyle Carlson reflects on his life and agricultural work when he surveys the collection of tractor models, most made by Ertl.
“This tractor is a copy of one my father used,” he says, picking up an older tractor model. “I’ve operated most every tractor and piece of equipment you see here.”
“My wife’s father farmed west of Paton and drove a Farmall M 30 with the first hydraulic loader to be sold in the area,” he says. A model of the tractor with the loader sits on his shelf.
He started collecting toy tractors in the 1960s when he went to the Clay County Fair and bought a John Deere 5020.
Later, when a couple of his friends ran a toy store in Boxholm, the owners would call him to tell him about the latest models to come out.
“That’s where I got most of the tractors you see here,” he says.
Ten years ago or so, Carlson made a trip to the Ertl toy factory in Dyersville when there was a large toy show, a trip he says he absolutely enjoyed.
Other memories that flood back when looking at the toys are of his son, Neil, who died a few years ago.
Doyle’s wife, Virginia, notes, “Our son used to play with a lot of the tractors up there when he was a kid.”
Neil was also a farmer and collected the miniature tractors.
Doyle thought for a moment on what may happen to his collection in the future.
“I expect someday a number of the tractors in my collection will go to my grandson and others,” he says.
Another collector’s piece he particularly prizes is an Allis Chalmers combine. But, another piece that isn’t an agricultural toy is stands out amongst the tractor’s and other farm equipment replicas — a tin airplane.
“My parents gave that to me for Christmas in 1938,” Doyle says, holding the plane and thinking a bit about the past. “I guess we just like this old stuff.”