About Reynolds Farm Equipment

Reynolds Farm Equipment has been an authorized John Deere dealer serving central Indiana since 1955. We are an authorized John Deere dealer that markets John Deere Tractors, John Deere Farm Equipment, John Deere Agricultural Equipment, John Deere Commercial Worksite Equipment, John Deere Golf and Turf Equipment, John Deere Lawn and Garden Equipment, John Deere New Parts, John Deere Used Parts, John Deere Tractor Parts, and John Deere Toys. Our blog, John Deere Stuff, will provide you with useful information related to our business in the farming equipment industry.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

One Man's Pursuit Of All Things 'Tractor'

from The Fence Post

This display of John Deere pedal tractors depict the preference of the equipment used on the Oatts Farm. The Ford pedal tractors reflect the preferred brand in the Oatts Farm Antique Tractor Museum.
Photo: Fred Hendricks

What do you call a person who lives in the south, farms several thousand acres for grain production, has a bunch of antique tractors displayed in museums in two states, collects farm toys, including pedal tractors and owns a farm toy store? Some would call him a Southern Gentleman.

Charles Oatts is a true Southern Gentleman but he does not take all the credit for the aforementioned family enterprises. “While each family member has varied interests, we're all involved. My wife, Shirley, is very supportive and as active as any wife could be. Our son, Brian and his wife, Carla and their two children are involved with all facets of our family farm. And a 36-year loyal employee, Tommy Johnson, helps manage the farm toy store and restores the antique tractors. In addition, numerous other employees make untold contributions to the farm business,” Charles shared.

The Oatts Family farm business is located in Hopkinsville, a community in the fertile Pennyrile region of southwestern Kentucky. Charles grew up on the family farm helping with the tobacco, hay and grain cropping. Their livestock included; beef, hogs and a small herd of milk cows. He attended a one-room school for grades one through seven with the same teacher all seven grades.

After high school graduation, Charles began his college studies. Charles farmed part time during college. With a degree in hand, Charles taught school and served as a school administrator. After a short stint in the classroom, he started farming full time. His management and farming skills were honed as the family developed their many enterprises.

Collection Hobby — Toy Show
Charles developed a farm related hobby collecting antique tractors. “The collection has grown with five brands represented. Although we farm primarily with John Deere equipment, I was intrigued with Ford and Ferguson tractors. And now with Tommy's help, we have more of those than any other make. All told, we have about 40 tractors fully restored. The majority of the tractors are displayed in our home farm tractor museum. We also have a number of antique tractors on permanent display in the Ford Tractor and Toy Building at the Florida Flywheeler Show grounds located in Ft Meade, Fla. This show is a very large event with tractors on display during their November, January and February shows. Shirley and I spend several months in Florida during the winter so we're able to maintain those tractors while taking in the Flywheeler Shows,” Charles stated.

With farming activities moving at a slower pace during the winter season, the Oatts Family hosts the annual Western Kentucky Farm Toy Show the first Saturday in December. Charles talked about the show, saying “We open our museum for visitors to view the antique tractors while attending the toy show. We also use a portion of the warehouse adjacent to the toy store for other venders to display. Toy collectors attend the show from across Kentucky and the surrounding states. This activity is a real family affair with all the Oatts clan involved.”

Toys Spring from the Earth

The bug to collect farm toys caught Charles in 1977. “We were excavating a sight for a tool shed and came across two childhood John Deere toy tractors buried under a tree. They were in remarkably good shape. This spiked my interest so I started going to farm toy shows to collect other desired toys. Today, the collection consists of all brands and has grown to several hundred. Two of the prized pieces in the collection include; a 1:16 scale die-cast John Deere model A with the high post and a 1:16 scale die-cast John Deere model A with a man on the seat, both made by Ertl. We also have the 1:16 scale die-cast John Deere models 14 and 17 made by Wagner. Our farm operation uses all John Deere equipment so we try to focus on those,” Charles said.

Charles soon learned that farm toy collecting had wide and diversified interest. “Invariably, the collection became a discussion point when friends came by to visit. These friends began asking that we purchase toys for them while at toy shows,” Charles remarked. With this interest in farm toys by friends and neighbors, a retail business evolved. He went on to say, “We realized there was a market for farm toys. So we made the decision to start the toy business. I contacted the toy manufactures and we were soon off and running with the Oatts Farm Toy business.

Expanding the toy collection to include pedal tractors was quite by chance, as with unearthing the toy tractors. “The pedal tractor collection began when we discovered a John Deere model 130 made by Eska in a farm building we had purchased. We soon started adding pedal tractors to our toy collection. We have a few antique versions but most are new versions as they became available through the years. We probably have about 150 pedal tractors with nearly every brand name represented. We also offer all the commercially made pedal tractors through our toy store,” Charles commented.

Unique Pedal Tractors
Rare antique pedal tractors continue to hold their value. If you are among the collectors with any of the old gems, consider yourself fortunate. “We do not have many of the antique pedal tractor versions, but we're fortunate to have a few. Among the more prized ones is the 1958 John Deere model 130 by Eska. This pedal tractor was the one that came with the farm we purchased,” Charles recounted.

Charles went on to comment about additional features of their pedal collection, “Harold Sherron of Boaz, Kentucky is an avid collector of antique Gibson tractors. In fact, he may have the most complete set of anyone in America. Harold had a set of three Gibson pedal tractors made for resale. They include: Gibson model H-Jr row-crop, Gibson model H-Jr standard and Gibson model D-Jr standard. All three are nice quality. We're fortunate to have them in our collection.”

Another very rare pedal tractor in the Oatts hoard is the John Deere model 8310T track version. This custom model 8310T features continues rubber tracks along with front-end weights. Wayne Samuelson of Dyersville, Iowa customized this tractor. “Another favorite pedal tractor is our custom John Deere model 430. We don't know who built it, but we think it is quite special. We enjoy the pedal tractor additions in our collection. They are more out in the open and certainly add color. They also spur a lot of reminiscing along with interesting discussions when customers and friends come by,” he noted.

Twists and Turns of Toy Collecting
When reflecting on how the farm toy hobby evolved, we are often reminded of someone or a special event that influenced us. Charles noted earlier that they came on two toy tractors and the one pedal tractor by chance. “No one really influenced me as I launched the collection. I remember the many fine individuals who were serious toy and pedal collectors that Shirley and I have met over the years. We have been so impressed by them and their collections. It really made us want to continue in the hobby. I would love to name them, but they are too numerous to mention,” he reflected.

The never-ending enhancements to toy tractors and pedal tractors make the collecting hobby more intriguing. Charles recalled, “Details of toys have improved significantly. Plastic is being used more all the time. There are many more models available. And there are more sizes, including 1:32 and 1:50 scale offerings. The higher cost of today's toys makes it more difficult especially with the Key and Precision Series.” He commented further, “I really like the 1:16 scale construction equipment, but we don't see many of them anymore. Having that larger scale made the equipment seem more realistic.”

The average age of the collector suggests that younger people may not be as interested in farm toys or John Deere collectibles. No doubt the cost for high detail toys plays into the age of the collector. There are young collectors with a keen interest in toy replicas, however. “When attending farm toy shows, I am concerned that there are fewer young people who will become dealers. This may become a problem when older dealers stop going to the toy shows. The economy is a problem for many families. It is causing many of them to reconsider how much they should be investing in toys verses necessities,” Charles lamented.

The beginner can certainly find his niche when interested in collecting. “I would advise those who are beginning to collect to consider the space available for their toys. The available space will determine the scale to start collecting. It will also provide direction regarding the availability of numbers of toys available in that scale and chosen brand. I would encourage the starter to pick a brand and stick with that brand. And then, go with a selected series, be it shelf models or high detail,” he advised.

There are numerous avenues to stay informed when collecting. “I get my best information from publications like Toy Farmer. Talking with collector friends, visiting farm toy stores and auction sales are all good sources of information. We also attend 10 or more toy shows each year,” Charles explained.

Friends and Future

The farm toy hobby is people sharing their past, developing friendships and looking toward an optimistic future. “We feel the collection hobby involves some of the best people in the world. And, we are proud to be a part of it. Whether we're assisting a customer in our store or hosting the Western Kentucky Farm Toy Show, we get to see the customers smile when buying or as they admire our collections. It may be a smile of reflection back to a piece of equipment they operated or the purchase of that sought after replica. All of this makes it worth more to us than the actual value of the collections,” Charles expressed. He went on to note, “Through our collections, we feel that we are preserving our agriculture heritage. It also encourages other individuals to preserve their past through collecting farm toys, pedal tractors or antique tractors.”

If you would like to learn more about Oatts Farm Toys, you may contact the friendly folks at (270) 885-8175. Reminder, the store and museum are open by chance or by appointment.

Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres, Ltd., of Bucyrus, Ohio, a dairy cattle consulting business. Mr. Hendricks is an avid farm toy collector and a freelance writer.

About the author
Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres, Ltd., of Bucyrus, Ohio, a dairy cattle consulting business. Mr. Hendricks is an avid farm toy collector and a freelance writer.