Neb. man grows toy tractor collection with love of farming

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Farm Forum

BELDEN, Neb. — Anyone who grew up on a farm or farmed for any length of time can identify with Lowell Johnson.

The Sioux City Journal reports that there’s a connection to the land that often remains inside someone, long after they may have moved off the farm.

Along with that connection is a certain fondness for the machines used to work the land. There’s a loyalty to green, red, orange – colors synonymous with the manufacturer of the brand of tractors and farm implements a farmer may have used for a lifetime.

That’s why Johnson’s home isn’t just an ode to the orange hue of Allis-Chalmers tractors and farm implements (plus some red for International, too), but to a life spent involved in agriculture.

“You can take a man out of farming, but you can’t take him clear out. There’s always a little bit inside you,” Johnson said.

Johnson grew up on a farm south of Laurel, Nebraska, and his dad used both Allis-Chalmers and International tractors. Johnson used the same brands on the farm he worked south of Belden from 1971 to 1993 before moving into Belden to work full time at the town’s grain elevator.

Along the way, he wanted to keep the special feelings he had for the machines he used.

Walk into his house in Belden, and it’s overwhelmingly orange. Display cases, bookshelves, his entertainment center – most are filled with toy Allis-Chalmers tractors and farm implements.

“It’s kind of a sickness,” Johnson said, chuckling in reference to his collection, which he guesses numbers more than 200 pieces. “I haven’t counted them in a while.”

You’ll find plenty of International tractors in his collection, too. As farm toy collecting has gotten more popular, toy companies have come out with new “old” toys, highly accurate re-creations of older tractors and farm implements, complete with moving parts, such as the International H tractor with a mounted two-row planter in Johnson’s collection.

A lot of his purchases are made for the purpose of preserving memories. These are models of the tractors his father used, the tractors he used. They spent hundreds of hours on these trusted machines.

“My grandpa had John Deeres. One of these days I’ll pick up the models of what he had,” Johnson said.

Johnson started collecting in the 1970s, “kind of when my kids quit playing with them.”

Johnson prefers the heavy cast-iron toys made years ago to the modern toys that contain a lot of plastic. But he’s not going to be too picky if he finds something that fills a hole in his collection, which contains a model of just about every tractor Allis-Chalmers ever made.

“Every once in a while I find something I’ve never seen before,” he said.

That collection stretches into real tractors, too. In a brand-new building next to his house are six antique tractors in various stages of restoration. Among them are a couple near to his heart. There’s the 1945 Farmall H, which he grew up on and kept when he got out of farming.

Nearby is the one tractor he wished he’d kept from his farming days, an Allis-Chalmers 190XT. After years of looking for another one, he successfully bid for this one Friday at a farm auction in Carroll, Nebraska.

Johnson has four or five toy models of this particular tractor. Now he’s got the real thing.

“I always said I wanted one again before I died,” he said.

Collection complete in that regard, but there will be more toys, maybe a few more antiques.

Collecting, much like farming, flows through Johnson’s blood.

“It’s kind of the memory of what you grew up with,” he said.

Those memories, much like a well-cared-for tractor, can keep a farmer, or former farmer, going for life.