Toy tractor collection finds traction in local saloon

Toy tractor collection

This 1950s McCormick Farmall 400 toy tractor with a three-bottom plow sold for $950 + the buyer’s premium at Soulis Auctions in September 2019. Image courtesy of Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

BATTLE CREEK, Neb. (AP) – Arvid Warneke fielded a lot of questions when it came time to find a new home for his toy tractor collection.

The rural Meadow Grove farmer had displayed the collection of Ertyl International and Farmall tractors at Red Bud Hardware Store in Battle Creek, which he and wife, Jane, owned and operated for many years. But in late 2018, the Warnekes were closing the store, and he needed to find another place for the collection to go.

“They could’ve went on auction. I didn’t want to do that,” Warneke told the Norfolk Daily News. “But if I had to store them all (at home), where nobody could see them – I don’t know.”

Now, another Battle Creek business owner – Toby Thompson of the Fight’n River Saloon – has stepped in and plans to keep the collection in town and on display.

Ownership of the collection will still belong to Warneke.

While Warneke said he can’t remember the exact year the collection began, he does remember seeing the LeMars Toy Store advertised on TV on Saturday nights when his parents, the late Martin and Pearl Warneke, tuned in to watch the Lawrence Welk Show. Both his dad’s affinity for Farmall Tractors and the LeMars Toy Store have played a role in the collection that now includes 168 pieces.

“Dad’s first brand new tractor was a (Farmall) H. … I think he said he gave 800 and some dollars for it,” Warneke said. “Then a year or so later, he bought an M, which is a size bigger than an H. An M was a big tractor back then.”

The toy versions of those tractors are part of the collection that Warneke estimates started “back 25 or 30 years ago.” After acquiring the first tractors in the collection, Warneke said he became more meticulous about which pieces he was adding.

Some of the pieces – such as the Demonstrator he keeps at home – were given to him. Others he’s bought his own decals for or had restored.

Many of the pieces came from the same LeMars Toy Store he saw advertised on his parents’ TV set. He and his wife are invited to the store’s annual customer appreciation event.

“I get a lot of stuff from the LeMars Toy Store,” he said.

Warneke said he didn’t want to part with the collection, so when Thompson – who owns the Fight’n River Saloon in Battle Creek – expressed interest in keeping the collection on display at the bar, he was happy to agree.

“I said, ‘Well, if you build me the shelves, I can display them here,’” Thompson said. “He pondered it for about two hours.”

Thompson has 142 pieces of the collection displayed on newly built glass shelves that run along the top of the walls in the barroom at the Fight’n River. The tractors are highlighted with rope lighting. In jest, someone has added a John Deere toy model near the collection, as well.

The pieces were on display at the bar only a short time before the establishment was forced to close to comply with coronavirus guidelines, Thompson said. But now that the bar is open again, the collection has turned into a conversation piece, especially for the middle-age and older customers.

Warneke knows the collection so well, he can point to each piece and name the series and dates the real tractor was manufactured. Now that the collection is on display at the bar, Thompson said he plans to have etched labels made soon so those who are curious can read the dates and models with each corresponding piece because he doesn’t have the same familiarity.

“(Customers) always ask me about them, and I always say, ‘I’ll ask Arvid when he comes in,’” he said.

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By KATHRYN HARRIS, Norfolk Daily News

AP-WF-07-20-20 1311GMT

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