(Photo by Leonna Essner, Staff)
"I started collecting original toy tractors in the 1940s when I was in grade school," French recalled. "Then as I got older, I quit for awhile and started to collect again years later."
Brands like John Deere, International and Aliss-Chalmers make up French's collection. A retired farmer, French said he's a little partial to his John Deere collection since his uncle used to be a salesman for the machinery.
French has so many tractors they've taken up at least one room in the French household.
"We filled up the whole middle room with tractors," French said. "I made shelves and hung them all around the room. They're full of tractors."
Tractor enthusiasts like French will have a chance to view their favorite models this month during two tractor displays at the Sikeston Depot.
Currently on display at the Sikeston Depot are numerous John Deere tractors from French and an International tractor display provided by Bud and Ben Werner of Sikeston.
The Werners International collection is comprised of models from the late 1930s through present day. There are combines and Farmalls on display.
French's models at the Depot range from the early 1930s to the late 1940s and 1950s. There are six handcrafted by individuals and licensed by John Deere.
Most toy tractors are 1/16 and 1/64 scale models; however, French noted they do make some 1/32 scale models for four-wheel drives and a few 1/8 scale models.
French even has some of the older John Deere toy tractors that were handmade and are very detailed.
"You can see everything. They even made places where the oil goes and all of that," French said.
Another toy tractor collector, Terry Cole of Sikeston, has collected toy replicas for the past 15 years. He started out collecting both International and John Deere tractors, but it got to be too much so now he just collects John Deere, he said.
Like most collectors, Cole admitted he doesn't really know how his collection got started.
"I grew up on a farm, but I'm not really sure how I got started," Cole recalled. "It just sort of happened."
Throughout the month, the mini tractor display will include toy or scale models of various pieces of farm equipment. The display will be inside the Depot, where several area hobbyists have selected tractors and other pieces from their collections for the public to enjoy. This exhibit will be available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Visitors to the displays will have an opportunity to participate in a drawing for several toy tractors or other toy farm equipment by making donations to the event.
From Sept. 26-28, the second tractor display will feature antique tractors on the east side of the Depot in the parking lot. Collectors and restorers of these tractors are from Southeast Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. The antique tractor display is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 26; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 27 (day of the Cotton Carnival parade); and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 28.
Illinois resident Phil Dillow has restored and collected antique tractors for 30 years and was asked to showcase a couple of his tractors at the Depot.
"When I started, there weren't that many collectors, and the tractors were worth nothing. Now so many of the young people are collecting them and created a demand," Dillow said.
Dillow's oldest model dates back to 1928 and his most recent model is from the 1960s. When Dillow has time, he travels around, showcasing his antique tractors at fairs and other various events, but it's a time consuming hobby.
"Sometimes it's a lot more work than fun," Dillow lamented.
His antique collection consists mostly of John Deere and International tractors, Dillow said, adding that some of his tractors are currently on display at the Semo District Fair.
When someone gave Dillow an old tractor, the farmer grew interested in finding more tractors and a hobby was born.
While Dillow used to spend time fixing up the tractors and cleaning them, he admitted it's gotten a lot harder to keep up with the maintenance on the tractors.
"It's a job," Dillow sighed. "My problem is time. It takes a lot of time to clean them and a lot of time to take them back and forth to shows. It's also very costly."
Tractors displayed for the antique show are sponsored by Aufdenberg Equipment, Nelson Equipment, DeWitt Auction Co. and Bizzell Lawn and Nursery of Sikeston and French Implement, Medlin Equipment and Delta Ford New Holland of Charleston.
For more information, call Don Webb at 471-9195 or visit www.sikestondepot.org.