When it comes to collecting farm toys, Curtis E. Kiecker after several runs at collecting farm toys finally hit upon a collecting plan that sets him apart from most other collectors and has won him awards.
Kiecker, 74, now of New Ulm, collects and modifies farm toys that represent the farm equipment he used in his farming days on the family farm which isn't rural but oddly enough is located within the city limits of Fairfax.
For him, it's a case of the third time being the charm. Starting in the '70s while he was farming, he turned occasionally purchases of farm toys into his first serious collection effort. However, that effort was kind of short-lived as his father, Elmer, was dedicated to a work ethic that didn't include spending money on toys, Kiecker laughs, as he sits in and surveys the workshop and display area he created in his home.
Curtis Kiecker stands in front of the multi-shelf display that he built in his home workshop to display all of his farm toys that are modified by him and several friends to be exactly outfitted like the real implements used on his family farm.
However, by that time, Kiecker had caught the "bug" so he started picking up "well-detailed" toys here and there, leading him into a period when he met and got to know individuals who introduced him to the big world of farm toy collecting and the publications, like Toy Farmer, which go along with it. He also discovered that there were firms that made "parts" for either building your own toys or "customizing" shelf toys.
He also discovered the rather vast farm toy auction market in which "well-detailed" pieces could draw a heap of money. However, the "well-detailed" phase of collecting was soon to come to an end, as well. He had "about 25 pieces," most of which were put up for auction. However, his collecting hiatus didn't last long.
"Well, after the auction was over with, I came to New Ulm to Vogel Arena and there was a toy show, and I went to visit with friends and [was] just looking at the toys, not thinking about getting back in," Kiecker recalls.
"Here was a little John Deere 10-foot grain binder, well-detailed, [and I had] no money, no checkbook, nothing," he recalls.
However, a friend, Brad Zender who managed the show, lent him the $600 to buy the "well-detailed, little John Deere 10-foot grain binder. I was starting to get used to nice things costing money," Kiecker said, chuckling.
Still, when his wife Elaine and their daughters came back from shopping downtown, he admits he had to do some explaining to his wife.
"I had this package in my hand, and she says, you didn't. Well, I had to have this one so, okay, now we're back into toys again, doing well-detailed pieces." There were well-detailed pieces like the "operable manure spreader in 1/16th scale, very nice. We had one on the farm. It was pulled by horses originally, but we cut the pole off and pulled it with a tractor. Then, Gilson Riecke, they made very nice, well-detailed pieces [like the] nice little detailed, unstyled John Deere tractor that would fit on that little grain binder that I bought, just perfect," Kiecker says, smiling at the thought.
"Anyway, it kind of started over, and I had I suppose probably 25 pieces in all, just well-detailed pieces. Now, it comes to we're going to quit farming," he said.
The Kieckers were planning to move into an apartment in New Ulm but wound up buying a house on the edge of town.
"That was in 2002 so then we had an auction with a man in Ohio in Decatur, Illinois to sell these well-detailed pieces because the man in Ohio and me, neither one had enough to make a decent auction so we put it together. It came out okay. It was good."
Kiecker had learned that an auction in a city like Decatur, east and south of Chicago,"can draw people from the East Coast that aren't afraid to spend money. I bought this little detailed combine that I had for $500 [which] was the first combine that I had when I started farming. There was only five of them made. [It sold for] $3,250. She couldn't believe it."
So, now Kiecker is content to collect the toys that represent the farm implements he used in farming, and he "customizes" them with parts that he can order from catalogs and the like to make his collection totally authentic and uniquely connected to the actual machinery and bins on the family farm.
"You can get almost any kind of parts you need from a catalog, and those you can't you make," he said.
Then, he opened a plastic pill container and "poured" several tiny, tiny bolts into the palm of his hand.
"How do you pick them up. Like this," he said, wetting his finger with his tongue and pressing it on the bolt. It came right up riding on his finger tip. "Now, the trick is how do you handle it after you pick it up," he said.
However, he doesn't claim to do all the work. "Like painting the pieces, and stuff like that, I have friends who help me out on that."
Ron Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.