By CINDY LADAGE
SUBLETTE, Ill. — It was in the Firehouse where Chuck Eckel of Crete, Ill., was set up with his custom-built farm toys at this year’s Sublette Toy Show. He has been in the business for more than two decades.
He started working with his parents, Mildred and Charlie Eckel, and it was finding a Structo logging truck like he had as a child that sparked his interest in the hobby.
The Structo Toy Co. is one of the more collectible producers of steel toys. Originally located in Freeport, Ill., the company was founded in 1908 by brothers Louis and Edward Strohacker and C.C. Thompson.
One of their claims to fame is the production of the Erector Set. These structural model-building sets were produced in 1915, and then the designs were sold to British toy maker Meccano in 1918 and marketed in the United States as Erector Sets by A.C. Gilbert.
Structo continued to build a line of Auto Builder Outfits which included automobiles, trucks and tractors. By late 1920 and into 1921, these models and a few new ones were also being offered in a factory-assembled Ready Built line. When the United States entered World War II, Structo converted to making shells, armor and storage tanks for the military.
After the war, it began production of large-scale toys with rubber wheels. These toys were extremely detailed, with hoods that opened and headlight detailing. There is even a collectors club; for details, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/structotruckcollectorsclub
Finding the Structo truck brought Eckel back in the farm toy game. “We’ve been doing this for 25 years, Dad, even longer,” he said. “I came in the back door. Dad was collecting first, he and Mom started doing toy shows, and then I found a piece that I had as a kid – a Structo logging truck.”
Eckel expanded his hobby and started creating farm model layouts. He even had a winning layout in the early 1990s at the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa. The layouts opened his eyes to the potential within the farm toy hobby and business.
He started customizing toys and placing them in scenes, which make both the toy and the display unique. “I have been doing custom scenes since 1991 or 1992. I had a layout at Nationals called ‘Seasons on the farm,’” he added.
At the Sublette show, Eckel had examples of his detailed work and a steady stream of visitors stopped to look, buy and ask questions.
The Sublette Farm Toy Show is always the third week in March – and Eckel is a regular. Keep a lookout for him at the show in 2014.