Toy tractors help keep farm memories alive

posted April 9, 2018 7:39 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Benjamin Wideman, Regional Editor |

  • BW James Prochnow Collection 4 pic 041118
    James and Susan Prochnow stood by a display of some of the hundreds of items in James’ toy tractor collection. About 500 pieces are displayed in their rural Green Lake County home, with another 200 items kept down the road at the farm they operate with their son, Jason.
  • BW James Prochnow Collection 3 pic 041118
    Two of the pieces James Prochnow is most sentimental about are the 1953 Farmall at right and the 1940s L Case at left.
  • BW James Prochnow Collection 2 pic 041118
    Some of the 700 toy tractors in James Prochnow's collection are displayed at the New Holstein FFA Alumni's 24th annual Farm Toy and Craft Show.
  • BW James Prochnow Collection 1 pic 041118
    James Prochnow, 74, of rural Green Lake County, has about 700 items in his toy tractor collection. He reconfigured this Farmall 560 to resemble a real one he purchased about 35 years ago. It has bigger rear tires, fenders, a chrome exhaust pipe and a radio.

MARKESAN — James Prochnow vividly recalls coming home from school one day in the fall of 1953.

“My dad had just purchased a new Super M Farmall tractor, and I was really excited so I ran to the corn crib and got on it,” he said. “We’ve still got that tractor, and it runs well.”

But that wasn’t the only reason Prochnow remembers that day.

Included with the tractor purchase, the dealer threw in two Super M toy tractors — one for Prochnow and one for his younger brother, Roger. “Two toys for the two boys,” Prochnow said. “I played with that tractor a lot.”

That red, plastic tractor from 1953 remains among the most cherished items in Prochnow’s toy collection, which now includes about 700 tractors from several manufacturers.

“I’m getting older, but I still have a love for tractors. What can I say?” said Prochnow, 74, proudly noting he added another piece to the collection last month when he bought a long-sought Farmall 560 Gasoline tractor with a wide front (an Iowa FFA Special Auction version).

His wife, Susan, grew up on a dairy farm so she’s accustomed to tractors. She doesn’t mind devoting much of the second floor of their rural Green Lake County home to the toy collection. “He really likes them, and I like tractors too,” she said.

Glass display cases and shelves on multiple walls showcase about 500 of the toy tractors, with the other 200 or so kept down the road on the farm they operate in partnership with their son, Jason.

About 75 percent of Prochnow’s toy tractor collection is composed of Farmalls. “I grew up with them, so I just like them, I guess,” said Prochnow, who also has 10 real-life Farmalls. “Red, that’s my favorite color.”

The collection also features an array of John Deere and Oliver tractors, and a few Allis-Chalmers, Case and others mixed in.

“My favorites are probably the ones I played with as a kid,” Prochnow said. “They remind me of my childhood. Some people collect guns, and some people collect cars. I collect toy tractors. I guess I have a case of ‘the collector’s disease.’”

Another favorite toy tractor is a Farmall 560 that resembles a real one he purchased about 35 years ago.

“At the time I bought the toy, it didn’t look exactly like this,” he said, holding the toy and showing the details. “But I wanted it to look like the real one I have. So I put on bigger rear tires, fenders, a chrome exhaust pipe and a radio. And now it looks just like the real one.”

Prochnow was raised on his family’s dairy farm near Markesan, where they had about 35 milk cows and 100 pigs. Prochnow began transitioning into ownership of the farm in his early 20s after getting married, and he has farmed it ever since. Now, the operation has about 50 milk cows, in addition to cash crops and several steers.

As Christmas gifts throughout their childhood, Prochnow and his brother often received toy tractors. One time, Prochnow unwrapped an Oliver tractor along with several accessory pieces. They survived over the years and are prominently displayed in the same glass-door case as the 1953 Farmall tractor.

One of the oldest toy tractors in his collection (an L Case) came from his aunt. “I remember playing with it at her house in the 1940s, and then later I ended up with it,” he said. “So that one means a lot to me too.”

By the time he graduated from high school, Prochnow amassed about 15 toy tractors. The collection truly took off in the early 1980s, when he began regularly attending the National Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa. The Prochnows attend several other toy shows each year, too, and on occasion they bring several pieces from the collection to display for other visitors.

Each toy tractor in the collection is documented at home.

“But sometimes if I’m at a show I have to think twice if I have that one or not,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and if I’m not sure, I might get it just to be safe.”

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