Tiny tractors, big pull

Taneytown toy show showcases passion of event organizer


Behind Don Shoemaker's home in Taneytown is a large garage with a room filled with a collection of farm machinery toys.

Almost all of the items are models of John Deere equipment, such as tractors, combines and wagons.

"I'm proud of it," said Shoemaker, who estimates that there's more than 3,000 pieces in his collection.

Shoemaker's first farm toys were given to him as a small child, and he has continued to add to his collection over the years. About once a month, he said, he attends toy shows and other farm equipment events in search of new items.

But this weekend Shoemaker is bringing farm toy enthusiasts to Taneytown for an annual toy tractor show that benefits the local volunteer fire company.

Visitors attending today's show at the fire hall will be able to see all kinds of collectible toys and buy from dealers, said Shoemaker, who has organized the event for the past 12 years.

Toy tractors will be featured at the show, but there will also be other farm-related replicas, NASCAR racers, dolls and vintage toys.

Joyce Shoemaker said the show is a way for her husband to give back to the fire company, an organization that he has been a member of for more than 40 years.

All proceeds from food sales and the $2 admission fee will go to the fire company.

Also being donated is a 10 percent commission on all items sold at an auction, scheduled for Saturday night as part of the two-day event.

Shoemaker said 400 to 500 toys were expected to be auctioned. The number has to be limited or the auction will go on too late, as it did one year when about 700 toys were registered, he said.

Shoemaker gets most of his own toys by attending shows and auctions around the country. He said he travels once a year to national toy shows, including in Iowa and Missouri. About once or twice a month he also attends shows in the Mid-Atlantic region.

"You get to know the dealers and the buyers and then they get to learn about you," Shoemaker said. "It's really like a big family reunion when you go to some of these shows."

Shoemaker said his wife is supportive of his collection and that she will sometimes attend shows with him. Other times she lets him go with "the boys."

"There's a group of people that are interested in the toys, and they collect them and go to shows all over the U.S.," Joyce Shoemaker said. "They probably have a farm background and instead of collecting big tractors they collect little ones."

One of Shoemaker's favorite pieces is a gray Titan tractor, modeled after a real tractor.

The custom-made toy was measured to scale one-sixteenth the size of the 1917 tractor. The builder made 15 models, gave three to Shoemaker and sold the rest for $1,500 each.

The toy model and the tractor sit in Shoemaker's garage.

Made by the International Harvester Corp., the real tractor hadn't run for 15 years when Shoemaker and his son, Andy, came across it in Pennsylvania and bought it.

His son worked to restore it.

"We finally fired it up, and smoke was flying," Shoemaker said.

He said the toys housed in his collection room in the garage - built after he ran out of room in the house - also belong to his son, who also travels to shows and collects.

"My son's a better wheeler and dealer than I am," Shoemaker said.

It was Andy Shoemaker who spotted a wooden tractor set from 1945 that matched a metal set already owned by Shoemaker. His son insisted they purchase the toy, which has never been out of its box.

Not only did Shoemaker pass down his passion for collecting farm toys to his son, but also to his 7-year old grandson Travis.

"I gave him his own shelf on the bottom," Shoemaker said. "He's very good with" the toys.

Shoemaker said he just knows when a toy is something he just has to have for his collection - and so he bids.

"Sometimes things get out of hand," Shoemaker said.

At one show, he said, he unexpectedly came across three large wooden handmade John Deere wagons and had to coerce someone he was with to put down money to buy them.

"So now I always carry a blank check with me," he said.

Some of Shoemaker's toys date to the early 1900s, including an orange piece of equipment he calls an arcade tractor, or earth scraper.

He also owns a very small "baby tractor" from 1935, purchased at a show for about $90.

Shoemaker said he earns extra money to buy items for his collection by running his own french fry and snowball stand at festivals and events in the area.

Knowing about all of the different models and parts is natural to Shoemaker because of the years he has spent looking at the toys and being around farm equipment.

"My parents would go to the Frederick fair and the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and I would get a toy once a year," said Shoemaker, who grew up on a farm in Keysville.

All of his tractor toys have been very well cared for, and he even has a few old tractors with figurines of farmers on them.

"If kids didn't take good care of them the wheels would be missing and the man would be missing," Shoemaker said. "To find a toy complete like that today is so hard."

The show will be held today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Activities Building on the carnival grounds at 49 Memorial Ave. in Taneytown. Admission is $2 with children younger than 12 admitted free. Parking is free.

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