By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — For those who have been involved all along, it’s hard to believe this year’s Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show will be the 30th annual.
“I’m not going to say names because we’ve had so much help over the years, and I don’t want to slight anybody. I don’t want to forget anybody,” said Brian Johnson, a member of the Colfax FFA Alumni who has worked on every Colfax Farm Toy Show since the first one in 1988.
Actually, Brian and his wife, Peggy, have both worked on every farm toy show since the first one.
“There were a couple of people who came to the FFA Alumni and asked if we would help with this because we had a good membership group. We had 40 plus members. We threw it around. Then we just jumped into it,” he said.
The First Annual Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show was held at Colfax High School on Sunday, February 28, 1988.
A photograph covering about the bottom one-third of the front page of the Colfax Messenger published on Thursday, March 3, 1988, showed a sizable crowd in the CHS gymnasium.
According to the 1988 Messenger, “Over 1,250 people attended the farm toy show February 28 at the Colfax High School gym. Those who attended came from four different states to view the wide collection of toys representing many aspects of equipment used in farming. Organizers of the event had hoped to draw 500 people. This was the first farm toy show of its kind to take place in Colfax which was sponsored by the Colfax FFA Alumni.”
The photograph on the front page had been taken by Peggy Johnson.
An advertisement in the February 18, 1988, Messenger for the Farm Toy Show indicated the event would take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Since then, the time has been adjusted to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Johnson noted.
“Most of us were dairy farmers in the Alumni, so we worked around it. But we found out that the earlier in the morning you opened, the better off you were. People wanted to get there, and they wanted to get home. Now we open at 9, and there are people waiting at 8 o’clock,” Johnson said.
“The first year, we had no idea how to line the tables up or where to put the vendors. It was a great success. I would say the first five years, it was chaos every Saturday before. But then finally we got a system down, and then we expanded,” he said.
“We got into the hallway to the west (of the CHS gymnasium). Then we got into the Martin Anderson gym. Then we expanded into the wrestling room, which is now the weight room. At one time, I’m guessing we were close to 150 tables of toys,” Johnson said.
The March 9, 1989, edition of the Messenger reported that more than 1,500 people came to the 2nd Annual Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show. The Messenger also reported there were 90 displays of farm toys and one exhibitor came from Spring Valley, Minnesota.
“It was a lot of work. There was a gentleman who would take his trailer and his pickup, and a couple, three guys would go with him, and they’d go to Eau Claire and load up the tables on Friday. We’d unload them all. They were big heavy wooden tables,” Johnson recalled.
“We’d unload them in to the gym and set them up on Saturday. And when when the show was done, we’d have to load the tables all back up into the trailer and haul ‘em all back on Monday morning,” he said.
The February 21, 2007, Messenger reported that the Colfax FFA Alumni would be holding the 19th Annual Farm Toy Show in the Colfax High School gymnasium and that the 14th annual craft show would be held in the Martin Anderson gym.
After a few years, the number of toy vendors decreased a bit, “and then someone got the idea for the craft show,” Johnson said.
“We could put the crafts in the Martin Anderson and have the other gym for the toys. This year, as of right now, as I understand it, we have 80 tables of toys, and we have 40 tables of crafts. I call it a table. It’s an eight-foot space,” Johnson said.
Over the years, the majority of the work for organizing the farm toy show and the craft show has been delegated to the agriculture instructor.
“Tom Millar did a wonderful job, and now John Nelson has jumped right in and done great. The food is mainly taken care of by the FFA members and their parents. Over the years, the membership in the Alumni has dwindled, so we get a lot of help from the FFA members and their parents in setting up,” Johnson said.
“We own our own tables now, which is nice. They are lighter, and we don’t have to go and pick them up,” he said.
The average attendance for the Farm Toy Show and the Craft Show has been right around 1,000, although Johnson said he thinks that one year, the attendance may have hit 2,000.
The Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show and Craft Show is always the last Sunday in February.
As anyone who lives in this neck of the woods knows, the last Sunday in February can sometimes be below-zero cold or can be hit with a snowstorm.
And when the weather is bad, that can affect the attendance at the show, Johnson said.
When asked if the date was picked to coincide with National FFA Week, Johnson said, “we picked that week, the last Sunday in February, because we thought it would help people remember it.”
The Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show and Craft Show has had attendees and vendors from all over Wisconsin and from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and even Canada.
The Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show would not be complete without “the tractor.”
“We’ve had a toy tractor every year but two,” Johnson said.
The toy tractors generally sell quite well.
“The first year, we didn’t have one, and then in ‘96, for some reason, it got crossed up and we didn’t get one,” Johnson said.
“There are a couple of us who sell the tractors (at the show), and one year it was close to 400 tractors that we sold,” he said.
“We have sold them to every state in the Union and in Canada. We made these labels, and then we would box them up and ship them out Monday morning UPS,” Johnson said.
In the early years, the farm toy show tractor was custom made for the Colfax FFA Alumni.
“The second, third and fourth year, we had someone make the tractor specifically for us. It was a branded Oliver tractor,” Johnson said.
After that, the Colfax FFA Alumni purchased toys “off the shelf.”
“Then we would modify them. We would sit down for a day or two, and there’d be anywhere from five to 20 of us, and we’d modify them. We’d put bigger tires on, different grills, different stickers, different mufflers,” Johnson explained.
“Well, then it got to the point where we were losing manpower, so then we started purchasing them and would sell 40 or 50 of them a year. And that’s what we’ve been at since,” he said.
“There are probably a handful of people who have got every tractor. I’m one of them. And we are going to display them this year for the 30th,” Johnson said.
The tractor for this year is a 1066 International.
Picking out the tractor is not an easy task.
“If you get a green one, everyone will tell you, ‘if it was red, I’d buy one.’ It’s the same old story. Then the next year, if you get a red one, you hear, ‘if it was green, I’d buy it,’” Johnson said.
“We pick out the tractor mainly by price now. We’ve got to keep our prices down. We’ve usually sold them from anywhere from $50 to $65, depending on what we pay for them. And we try to pick out one we have not had before. We’ve had quite a few John Deere, quite a few International, a few Olivers, Allis Chalmers, Minneapolis Moline. We’ve had a lot of them — 27 so far, and this year will be our 28th tractor,” he said.
“Number one we have to try to find one we haven’t had before. But some of them are so expensive. Some of them are getting up to the $100 range. We can’t do that. We usually sell most of them. A few years ago, though, we had a dud that people didn’t want to buy,” Johnson said.
“The collectors will buy one, no matter what it is … Some will buy them because they are the right color. A few will buy them for their grandkids,” he said.
People buy them for other reasons, too.
“We had a gentleman who used to buy one every year, then he passed away, and now his daughter is looking for the rest of them. They’re hard to come by. No one wants to sell them. She gave me a list of the ones he didn’t have in his collection, and it’s tough to find them,” Johnson said.
Part of the charm of the Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show is that many of the farm toys on display are, if not antiques, at least considered vintage.
Johnson says he often hears people say they had one of those particular toys when they were growing up or that they used to drive this kind of tractor or use that kind of equipment.
“I remember one time there was an old D-14 pedal tractor that this gentleman had for sale. He had other pedal tractors too. I looked at the price, and he wanted $1,100,” Johnson recalled.
“And that was the talk. When he first brought that in — everybody said there was no way he would ever get that. It wasn’t an hour, and I saw that tractor going out under somebody’s arm. He sold it. It was original. It was kind of beat up and scratched, but that guy wanted it,” he said.
“It’s fun to go and see the toys you used to have as a kid. What’s so much fun is to watch the little kids go out with big smiles on their faces. It’s surprising how much is sold,” Johnson said.
“I don’t know if we’ve got any original vendors, but we’ve had some that have been with us for 20 years. Some have passed, too,” he noted.
The Farm Toy Show features a raffle as well. Alaine Sonnenberg has made a quilt the last ten to 15 years and has donated that for the raffle, Johnson said.
The money the Colfax FFA Alumni makes at the Farm Toy Show is used for FFA events and to support the buildings at the Colfax Fairgrounds.
The FFA Alumni sponsor FFA members at leadership conferences and World Dairy Expo, and the Alumni also use the money for scholarships.
The Colfax FFA is doing well on membership, Johnson noted.
“It goes so easy now. We set up, and everybody knows what to do. The first few years it was so trying,” he said.
“We’ve had a couple of radio stations broadcast a couple of times. And the Messenger has always been good to us. We really appreciate the school letting us use the facility, too. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the facility,” he said.
The Colfax FFA Alumni Farm Toy Show and Craft Show on Sunday, February 26, opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m.