Fleet of miniatures
Steve Johnson, of Castana, is the owner of a 200-plus fleet of trucks and trailers, each of which – whether orange, red, blue or green – is for sale.
He was offering them, with a discount for buying more than one, to customers at the 18th annual Fort Dodge Toy and Diecast Show on the East Campus of Iowa Central Community College Saturday.
Johnson started out collecting farm toys with his son, but decided somewhere along the line to transition to trucks.
“We saw a lot of pretty trucks on the highway,” he said. “We sold the farm toys and got into trucks.”
While the they may not be able to haul much – each is 1/64th the size of the real thing – they do come with custom features much in the same way as real trucks. Johnson has applied custom paint, tiny murals, additional chrome and other modifications to many of them. His customers can also coordinate their favorite trailer with their favorite cab.
“They can mix and match,” he said. “Everybody wants different colors.”
One thing you won’t find a lot of at his display are the boxes the trucks came in. Unlike the collectors of tractors and other agricultural equipment, the wrapper adds no value to the trucks.
“The box isn’t worth a lot to me,” he said. “It’s nothing but a headache.”
That’s driven by the customers, he said.
“If they have a choice between the open one on the shelf and the one in the box – for less money – they would take the one on the shelf,” he said. “I can’t explain why.”
Trampus Cook, of Deep River, spent a little time Saturday at Johnson’s display. Eventually, he selected two tractors and a trailer to add to his collection.
He’s not sure how many he already owns.
“I haven’t really counted them out,” he said.
Cook’s from a family of truck drivers. Collecting the little ones is a natural extension of the family business, he said. The brand, he said, doesn’t matter.
“I collect what strikes my eye,” Cook said.
What might strike his eye is a stream of water – that is, if he were to purchase a vintage Tonka fire truck Bryan Swift was selling. Swift was helping his father, Dennis Swift, of Fort Dodge, owner of Swifty’s Diecast Fire and Emergency Collectibles.
The fire trucks spray water. They feature a nozzle and a hose that connects to a fire hydrant. The hydrant connects to a garden hose and features a small wrench, like those used on real hydrants, to turn it on and off.
Bryan Swift had one of the wrenches, but they are hard to find because, he explained, they were easy for children to lose.
“The hardest thing to find is the hydrant,” Swift said. “They sell for 50 to a $100.”
The trucks themselves are valuable too. Most are priced a bit over $200. One of them, a Jeep style, had a vintage price tag of $3.99 still attached to the box.
In this case it adds value.
“It’s very hard to find them,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing, the box.”
He recently sold one of the Jeeps in its box.
“The box added $140,” he said.
Do his customers take the fire trucks home, unroll the garden hose and put out a pretend fire?
“Some people will,” he said.
What almost none will do, however, is hand them over to their children.
“I’ve seen people buy newer, more expensive stuff for the kids,” he said.
One thing a visitor will notice at a toy show is the segregation of the red International Harvester tractors from the green John Deere tractors.
Irene and Virgil Rasmussen, of Emerson, Neb., co-owners of V&E Customized Toys, extend that to the table cloth beneath the toys
“They don’t fight but they do kind of look at each other,” Irene Rasmussen joked.
She said the green side of the friendly rivalry outsells the red side – even at home on their own farm, mostly.
“We are green,” she said. “Except for a red combine.”
Randy Miller, of Vincent, was selling off a few of his extra pieces. The proceeds go back into his hobby.
“You got to sell to buy some more,” he explained.
Miller is a general collector, but he does like John Deere and livestock trailers.
As it is with many collectors, he has a personal Holy Grail that he’s seeking for his collection.
“It’s a Little Lawnmower Set,” he said. “You have to have a little John Deere 140 Maintenance set.”
Though the rare item has co far proved elusive, he hasn’t given up.
“You’ll be someplace and you’ll find it,” Miller said. “You should never say never.”