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Spend the winter ‘spying’ collectibles to research
As the toy show season continues through the winter months, collectors find it is easier to “spy and find” quality farm toys. For the collector trying to find buys where others may not be looking, where can they go?

Antique stores offer one place to find farm toys of varying prices and quality. While traveling in Amana Colonies, Iowa, one toy collector spied a few unique toys at Smokehouse Antiques. At the store, this collector found a Structo riding toy, an Airlines Doodle Bug that was built in the 1960s.

The Doodle Bug appeared in several variations. It was a riding toy on which riders had to shuffle along using their feet, as there were no pedals. This particular toy was built like a Jeep and was construction yellow. Structo Mfg. Co., the manufacturer, was founded in 1908, in Freeport, Ill., by Louis and Edward Strohacker and C.C. Thompson.

Structo produced ready-built, construction kit auto toys and erector construction kits. Things changed in the early 20th century. Around 1918 and early 1919 they launched a line of Auto-Builder Outfits, which included a limited selection of automobiles, trucks and tractors.

By 1921, these models were being offered in a factory-assembled Ready Built line. Production of steel toys continued until 1942 when, like many other factories, Structo was converted to produce items for the war effort.

The factory produced shells, armor and storage tanks for the military, but picked back up making toys after World War II. Structo built large-scale toys with rubber wheels, opening hoods and headlight details. Collectors seek out these toys – and they bring good money.

Also at Smokehouse, our collector found a tanker truck and a cast iron 1890s horse-drawn fire wagon toy. The store offered two old salesman samples – road graders. One of these has the words “Adams Leaning Wheel Grader” on the side.

Salesmen’s samples were popular during the early 20th century. The sample offered a small version of their product to show retailers and potential buyers. It sample was easy to pack and travel with, but offered a pretty good idea of what the customer would be buying.

Many salesmen’s samples are highly detailed, pointing out important features of the product. Salesmen’s samples are hard to come by and are usually quite expensive.

Part of the interesting aspect of these samples is researching the companies that produced them. For example, the Adams grader was produced by J.D. Adams & Co., which operated from 1905-61. The company headquarters were in Indianapolis, Ind.
The Historical Construction Equipment Assoc. offers some biographical information about the company: “J. D. Adams invented the first successful leaning-wheel pull grader in 1885, and founded J.D. Adams & Co.”

Antique stores may seem like a likely source for collectors, but another place where this same farm toy collector found items was south, at the New Year’s flea market in Louisville, Ky.
Hearing about the show from a friend, he headed to Louisville this year for the big flea market. The collector, who is also a farmer, was impressed the market is held at the same place as the National Farm Machinery Show.

The flea market offered both common and uncommon finds. One uncommon find was the garage door salesmen’s sample he spied, that was made by the National Mfg. Co. of Sterling, Ill.

National began in 1901. It started out as a small wagon company and switched to hardware manufacturing and sales. The company is still operating and has facilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Today, National states it has grown into an international force, employing more than 1,600 workers “dedicated to creating the best hardware options for our valued customers.”

The same vendor that had the garage door sample also had a rare Tonka fire truck and rescue truck in the box, with the accompanying hat and badge. “I have never seen another complete set like this,” the vendor said.

Tonka‘s history, like other companies’ in this column, began in the Midwest. The original company was Mound Metalcraft, Inc., which began operations in a three-floor schoolhouse in 1947 near Lake Minnetonka in Mound, Minn.

Flea markets have been a good source of finds for the collector in this story. Last summer he had good luck at the Bloomington-Normal Third Sunday and also found a few items at the Covered Bridge festival in Parke County, Ind.

Search out garage sales, junk stores and other out-of-the-way places for that special item to add to a farm toy collection. Even if a collector isn’t looking to buy, the history itself is a fun aspect to this fascinating hobby.

Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.