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Small Illinois community hosts big farm toy show
Illinois Correspondent

SUBLETTE, Ill. — An Oliver tractor hanging high above the town is probably the first thing visitors noticed when they drove into Sublette to attend the 24th annual Sublette Farm Toy Show on March 19. The show was from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. all across the small town of Sublette. This toy show funds most of the sporting events and an array of civic needs for the 500 people who live there. During this event, always the third Sunday in March, the town swells to a population of around 7,000.

Each year the show features one particular brand, and this year that brand was Oliver.

The same committee of Tom Dinges, Dean Stephenitch, Paul Henkel and Don Dinges has been in charge of the toy show for almost a quarter of a century. The show idea came from now-deceased toy collector Dan Tastad. The first year, the show was only in two buildings.

Today the show has taken over eight buildings that are filled with toys, literature, memorabilia, a train exhibit, antique tractors, trucks and other items lining the street. There is something for everyone to see and enjoy.

One tractor that was truly enjoyed was Roger and Howard Schnell’s 1939 International Harvester Fairway 14. Although Oliver was the featured brand this year, this IH caught a lot of attention. Perhaps because it is so different, many stopped to admire the low-slung tractor before reviewing the toys.

Howard Schnell explained that the tractor came originally from an area near Mendota, Ill. The brothers think that the tractor was probably originally used on a golf course in the area, but they don’t know for sure.

“We bought it at a dealer and restorer in 1998. It has the serial #4005, and we think it is a 1939,” Howard Schnell said. After a bit of checking, he said they found that the tractor is pretty unusual.

“There were not many Fairway 14s made,” he said. “There were more Fairway 12s made. We only know of one other one in Missouri.”

The Fairway F14 was parked outside of the school where Marvin Subbert and his wife, Jane, have been selling custom and scratch built toys for the past 24 years.

“I’ve been customizing and scratch building for about 60 years,” Subbert said.

He creates farm implements and an array of trailers, as well. All of his toys are created at 1/64th scale.

“As a rule of thumb, I scale five feet to an inch,” Subbert said. “My horse trailer is made of solid wood, and the boss, my wife Jane, makes the windows and doors on the computer.”

Many of his trailers and campers are made from solid wood. The cargo trailers though are made of plastic and are hollow. “I can put a 1/64th truck in the trailer,” Marvin said, adding, “Jane does the detailing on it.”

The couple is a mainstay for visitors to the Sublette show. Many come just to see what they have that is new. For about their business, write Subbert at Custom Farm Toys, 6018 S. 7000 East, St. Anne, IL 60964, or call 815-427-8571.

Working inside the school, show organizer Don Dinges is a toy collector, too. Dinges started collecting toys as a child. His first toy collectible was a 1949 Ford automobile, a gift from his parents while he was still in grade school.

Other childhood favorites include a 1941 cast-iron IH pickup, significant to Dinges because few iron toys were made after World War II; and one of the first plastic IH Ms, which came out right after WWII. The M was a gift, too, from the uncle who then owned the dealership.

International Harvester is the featured brand during the 2007 show. The Oliver brand has a history in Sublette, according to local reports. A.J. Lauer and George Leffelman sold hardware and farm implements at their store on Main Street since before 1900. Lauer had the hardware and plumbing business, and Leffelman had the farm implement business.

During the flu epidemic in 1918, Leffelman died and Lauer took over the entire operation. At that time, they sold John Deere machinery; however, Lauer felt the Oliver line of farm equipment had a better future, so he dropped the John Deere franchise and began selling Oliver farm equipment in the 1930s.

The company stayed in the family until 1943 when they sold the business to V.O. Bonnell, who continued operating the hardware store but moved the farm equipment business. The business has been sold to a variety of owners during the years, but they continued to offer Oliver, and later, White and New Idea lines until 1993.

This farm news was published in the April 19, 2006 issue of Farm World.