Enns couple to auction off 35 years of toy tractors

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
A child-like smile crosses his face as he handles his toy tractors with the careful touch of a surgeon.

But to 79-year-old Lauren Enns and wife Luetta these toys are anything but child’s play.

Over the past 35 years, the couple has invested considerable time and money in their collection, but have reaped the dividends of timeless friendships that developed in the process.

But most important, they collected together.

“It’s been very much a team effort,” Lauren said. “I’m very happy she was involved because it made it a lot more fun when we’d go to shows and sales.”

Their collection has grown to more than 1,000 pieces of mostly 1/16th-scale toys. But this Saturday, Jan. 21, the collection will be auctioned off-piece by piece-to the highest bidder at 9 a.m. in the 4-H building on the Marion County fairgrounds.

But the couple won’t be depositing the sale proceeds in their bank account.

“We’ve donated the entire collection to the Mennonite Foundation,” Lauren said. “They’re paying for all of the costs of the sale, from the barn rental to brochure printing costs. But they’ll get the proceeds, too, so I don’t have to report any of it to the Internal Revenue Service.

“We had to go through an attorney to get it all straight,” he added. “I didn’t know giving money away was this difficult.”

Enns began collecting when he was a child.

“I have a John Deere ‘D’ tractor that my brother and I played with when I was 7,” he said. “We had to have it restored because we had pretty near played it to death.”

Enns also treasures a cast iron Greyhound bus given to him by his grandfather when Enns was about 3 years old.

“He probably paid about a buck for it,” Enns said.

Another significant piece in the collection is a tractor that includes a threshing machine Enns played with in his youth.

“Lauren had quite a few of the older toys from when he was a kid and just hung on to them,” Luetta said.

It wasn’t until about 1970 that the couple got serious about collecting toys.

“I was a farmer during the Depression and didn’t have many toys-and I missed that,” Lauren said. “We decided to collect toys because it’s a lot larger hobby and the items hold their value so much better than other things.”

A dairyman for more than 50 years and now retired, Enns said the first toy tractor he purchased came from a filling station at St. Francis.

Also fueling the couple’s interest was Toy Farmer magazine.

In its origin, the magazine was a crudely printed eight-page circular. Today it is a monthly 100-page color magazine with a subscription of nearly 40,000 readers.

Today the Enns collection includes pieces made by Ertl, Broz, Wheat Belt, Coble and Ruehl to name just a few. The replicas include such brands as Massey Ferguson, Allis Chalmers, John Deere, Caterpillar, White, Minneapolis Moline, Oliver and Ford.

Over the years, Enns has relied on various sources to supply the latest in available toys.

“Most of the items come from toy dealers,” Lauren said. “One of those dealers is from Atchison. He carries everything and gives me really good prices as well.”

Another favorite supplier is Dyersville, Iowa, the home of Ertl Toys.

“The Ertl plant had about 1,900 women working at it years ago, but now it’s closed and it’s just a warehouse,” Lauren said. “There’re only about 150 people working there because all of their toys are made in old Mexico or China.

“In Dyersville, it’s like our Arts & Crafts festival only it’s a three-day sale,” Lauren said. “They have a museum and they close their schools and use the gymnasium for vendors.”

Enns said his visits to Dyersville also paid dividends when he was fortunate enough to meet Joe Ertl, founder of Ertl Toys.

“He made a pair of tractors to commemorate Max Armstrong, a celebrity on rural radio,” Lauren said. “I asked Joe to sign the tractors. He told me he already had signed the box, but I asked him if he’d sign the actual tractors. He got out his pen and signed them.

“You very seldom meet Joe Ertl, but these tractors will sell in the original box with his signature on them,” he added. “We have no idea what they’ll bring.”

Other items in the couple’s collection that will draw extraordinary interest include:

n A John Deere P-38 airplane that is one of only 400 ever made.

n A hand-built Peterbilt truck with a grain bed, roll-over tarps and cargo gates.

“It also has a combine trailer, and it will all sell together-including a combine,” Lauren said.

n An International W30 tractor with fan blades and a toolbox.

“It looks so lifelike that you’d think it should run,” Lauren said.

n A tractor with four-section split rims on front and back wheels

n A John Deere scraper with a four-legged deer emblem.

“Almost all of the decals have only two legs but this one has four,” Lauren said.

n Several hand-made implements custom produced by a Wichita artist.

“He was a tool-and-die maker from Cessna, but he went almost completely blind so he decided to make toys,” Lauren said. “There’s hardly anything like these around. They’re fully adjustable, they’re just amazing.”

n A hand-made Case combine that is truly one of a kind.

n A New Holland 77 baler that actually runs, powered by an electric motor.

Adding to the value of the collection, most pieces are still in original boxes.

“That really makes them worth a lot more,” Lauren said. “If it’s a new piece, the box won’t add much value. But if it’s an old piece, it really increases the value.”

Just what makes a particular piece more valuable than others is determined just like anything else-availability.

“It all depends on how many of them were made,” Lauren said. “The less of them that were produced, the more they’re worth.”

Some pieces of their collection also bring back memories-both fond and some not so fond.

“I once owned a 1020 International and that was my first tractor,” Enns said. “That was the most aggravating thing I ever owned because on a hot day it would not start and it didn’t have any brakes.”

While the Enns collection is one of the largest around, others in Marion County have also caught the bug.

“This county is just loaded with collectors,” Lauren said. “But I can’t give you any names because the toys are worth so much, others don’t want people to know they collect.”

The exact value of each piece is uncertain, but values are tabulated from across the United States and kept in a “Toy Farmers Bible.”

“I can pretty much look at most of my toys and tell you what it’s worth and what story goes along with it,” Lauren said. “But I did buy a toy in Missouri a while back and got home and found out I already had it-but I’m 79 years old, too.”

According to son Jim, those kind of occurrences partly are what prompted his folks to part with their collection.

“At first we were going to let our children take over the collection,” Luetta said. “But they told us they really knew nothing about them or their values, so we decided to sell them.”

And what a sale it will be.

All items have been catalogued by Luetta-“My job all along has been to do the book work,” she said-and neatly packaged in a 16-page color brochure assembled by daughter Sherri Sells.

Sale participants will converge on Hillsboro from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, with many coming from Missouri, Texas, Montana, Colorado and Nebraska.

“The motel has 10 rooms already booked and the bed-and-breakfast has been booked for about two months,” Lauren said. “It’s going to be a big sale.”

Although each item is numbered in the catalog, they won’t be sold in numerical order.

“The auction will be conducted by Auction Specialists with Vern Koch, Mike Flavin and guest auctioneer Van Schmidt and will have two 8-foot rolling tables. They’ll fill them (with toys) and push them to the auctioneer,” Lauren said. “They’ll sell them all and then move on to the next tables until they’re all sold.”

The entire collection will be auctioned, not just selected pieces.

“When we decided to sell stuff, we knew we had to sell it all,” Luetta said. “We know if we don’t sell the good stuff we won’t get the buyers.”

A preview showing and open house is scheduled for 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 20, at the 4-H Building.

“It’s really going to be a bittersweet feeling to sell this collection because we’ll hate to see it go,” Lauren said. “But we’ve also enjoyed meeting all the people across the country in the process.

“The toys will be gone but the friendships we made will be with us for years.”

Just what emotions Lauren will feel when the auctioneer proclaims the final piece “sold” will be determined Saturday.

“My kids said they were going to buy a straight jacket and put me in it, and somebody else said I better be tranquilized,” Lauren said. “But a lot of the people I bought these things from will be at the auction so that will be nice.”

As each piece is sold, his thought will harken to days gone by, Lauren said.

“I’m sure the story behind each one will run through my mind. But I’ll probably still go to shows and I’ll still meet the people.

“And who knows, if I find something I find really interesting, I can’t say that I might not buy it.”

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