He was a “carpet farmer” as a kid. He was a farmer’s helper in his youth. And now, he is an enthusiastic toy farmer.
This evolution best portrays Mike Keenan, who grew up in northeast Ohio as a suburban city kid. His family operates a dairy farm in southeast Ohio where Keenan spent time during the summers as a youth. He loved working the fields with their John Deere equipment.
“I remember learning to drive the first John Deere tractor my grandfather bought in 1939. That old model A was a favorite relic and fun to drive,” Keenan said.
Passion is born. This experience formulated a passion for agriculture, particularly the John Deere equipment used on the family farm. And now, Keenan has transformed that passion into an avid toy farmer. His collection of John Deere farm toys is a virtual museum.
Keenan and his wife, Cindy, along with their three children, Michael, Sean and Erica, live in Ohio’s heartland of Troy. This “quasi farming community” is nestled in the Miami Valley, just north of Dayton.
Keenan received his first John Deere toys from his grandparents at Christmas.
“Whenever my grandfather on my father’s side would visit our family, he would take me to the local John Deere dealer to buy a new toy. He visited regularly and bought me a new toy each time. They saw vigorous play, but I always took good care of them. I never played with them outside, so I became known as a carpet farmer,” Keenan said.
These youthful toys were eventually put away in his parent’s home for safe keeping when Keenan grew older.
A fellow collector. In the early 1980s, Keenan met Brad Howell, a collector from Indiana. Seeing Howell’s collection made Keenan think that he, too, might one day take up a similar venture.
Unbeknownst to Keenan, his collecting would begin sooner than expected. Through his employment, Keenan and his family were transferred to Florida. Keenan’s mother asked that he take the toys in storage along to Florida or she would give them away. He agreed to take them.
When Keenan started moving them, he realized he had forgotten how many there were, but he was also pleased with their excellent condition. Resurfacing these toys sparked his interest in the earlier memory of his friend’s collection.
Keenan began attending toy shows in Florida where he acquired toys for his collection. His work related travels allowed him to attend and buy at shows in other parts of the country, as well. The Keenans’ dining room soon became filled with a growing bevy of John Deere toys.
“We contracted for cabinets to be built to display the toys,” Keenan said.
Back to Ohio. But before the project was finished, the family learned they were being transferred back to Ohio. So, they moved the toys and cabinets themselves and put them in storage until they could locate a suitable home.
Once the Keenans found the right home, suitable display areas became paramount. Keenan planned on displaying the toys in their basement, but his wife insisted the toys should be in what would normally be the formal dining room, due to their accumulated value.
The dining-room-turned-display-room evolved over time into a mini museum featuring the toy line of John Deere tractors and equipment.
“I originally started collecting 1/16-scale toys. I have since added some 1/32 and 1/64-scale items. I have all of the self propelled combines along with a few implements that were a part of my original play toys,” Keenan said.
He began collecting John Deere pedal tractors a few years ago and now he has 18. His collection currently exceeds 800 total pieces.
Character. Keenan’s hoard has a distinct character. The primary emphasis has been Ertl produced toys in 1/16-scale. He has complimented this production line with custom built toys by Precision Engineering, toys by Eldon Trumm and C & M Custom Toys.
Keenan also yearns to own older tractors in pristine condition. He will shop until he finds the right toy in the right condition through eBay, online auctions or other sources. If he already owns a tractor in good condition and comes onto the same tractor in still better condition, he will upgrade with the newfound gem.
Through his quest for high quality originals, Keenan has landed a few prize possessions. They include a 1/16-scale John Deere model 3010 by Ertl that was his first childhood toy, a John Deere model A pedal tractor by Eska that he acquired from the Clarence Criswell collection, a John Deere lawn and garden patio dealer set acquired through Fred Ertl Jr.’s collection dispersal and various gold toys believed to be one-of-a-kind.
Keenan said the biggest change is through the growth of the Internet and its affect on the hobby.
“Toys that you may never have found in a lifetime are coming up for sale through eBay or through online auctions. And they’re from every corner of the world,” he said.
The other change is the sheer number of collectors involved in the hobby, Keenan added.
Online auctions. The aforementioned online auctions have painted a new face on collecting. You can now set in the comfort of your home and bid for a special toy that previously took several travel days to acquire.
“There was always a chance of buying a rare piece when the crowd was limited by those who could attend or bids from a limited number of absentee buyers. Now with live Internet bidding, there are no bargains. It is good for the seller, though,” Keenan said.
Every serious collector is confronted with space limitations. This restriction dictates restraint or a redefined direction. Keenan was confronted with these same dilemmas. His hobby has outgrown the space his family is willing to give up.
“I have reassessed my priorities. I now collect a more narrow scope of John Deere toys,” he said.
The collector has centered his search on very rare old originals, Precision models and limited edition releases. He tries to support as many FFA promotional efforts and special commemorative releases as he can.
Frustration. While shelf models have grown in popularity, Keenan has become a bit frustrated with these releases.
“You buy what you believe will be a special shelf model. Low and behold, another release comes out that is nearly the same?” he said. “It may differ by a model number, by standard verses row crop or with a high crop version, for example. I understand that the manufacturer wants to maximize their investment in the mold, but my space is limited so I have not bought many of these releases,” Keenan said.
The motivation to collect varies depending on the person. It is a challenge to hunt for toys through a wide variety of sources. For some, it is the pure pleasure derived from the hobby. It is a social outlet for many. And for others, it may promise financial gain.
“I collect for the pleasure. I enjoy the hunt and challenge of constantly upgrading my collection,” Keenan said.
The collector’s family has even become involved in his hobby. Cindy started collecting Longaberger baskets and Keenan stumbled onto a John Deere dealer in Fishers, Ind., who created baskets accented with the familiar logo and John Deere green and yellow as a gift item to their customers during the holidays.
Merry Christmas. The parent John Deere Company picked up on this idea and now offers a line of collector baskets and the Keenan children buy each new release for their mother’s Christmas gift.
The aspiring young collector is joining the throngs of old-timers every day. As with any phase of life, they hold the future and often look to the old-timers for advice.
“I would tell them to attend toy shows and auctions to view the vast amount of options in collecting. Then consider available space and finances. The 1/64-scale is a great way for a young collector with a limited budget to get started,” Keenan said.
(Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres, Ltd. of Longmont, Colo. SunShower Acres provides genetic consulting services and related breeding products for dairy farmers. Hendricks is an avid “toy farmer” and a freelance writer.)
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