Ed Smith never had many toys as a child. But he's turned a 10-by-12 guest bedroom in his house near Lisbon into a shrine for more than 1,000 toy tractors no bigger than 4 or 5 inches long and lighter than a brick.
"When I was a kid, tractors weren't something we had time to play with. They were big machines we had to use to make a living on the land," says Smith, 63, as he dusts a 1958 model of a red 400 International Farmall tractor worth more than $2,000. "We were a big family who was poor, and toys were a luxury.
"That's why I've got so many now," says the retired farmer. "Tractors are in my blood, so I've surrounded myself with them."
Smith is one of a growing number of Howard County residents who collect toy tractors. And many collectors say he may have the biggest collection in Howard County -- perhaps on the whole East Coast.
"Anytime there's a new collectors item or a new edition to a tractor that comes out, he's [Smith] the first guy on my doorstep, asking if I've got it before I've even heard of it," says Maurice Gladhill, owner of Gladhill Tractor Mart in Frederick, which sells about $50,000 worth of toy tractors a year. "He's one of the die-hards."
Enter the back bedroom of Smith's house on Long Corner Road and wall to wall, floor to ceiling, are rows of model tractors.
Each has its own story. There's the 1945 model of a John Deere "A" with a 2-cylinder engine, which he calls "one of the best plowing tractors of its time." He bought the 1960s model of a 430 John Deere from a junk man in Baltimore five years ago for $25. It's worth almost $1,000 now.
He found the red 400 International Farmall with the rare split rim -- a trademark of the 1958 tractor -- at a public auction. It's now worth about $800. He owns a gray model 020 McCormick with 25 horsepower similar to the one he first drove in the 1940s.
The room is covered with miniature versions of full-sized tractors. The windows are barely visible.
"Maybe I have gotten a bit carried away," says Smith. "But it sure is something I truly enjoy."
For most collectors, the miniature versions of the tractors bring nostalgia for their childhood.
"There's memories in each tractor you get from the days when you used to help your dad out," says Ron Cashdollar of Lisbon, who has about 20 toy tractors.
"You look at the green and yellow colors characteristic of a John Deere or the red of a Farmall and you can relate to it because it's something you grew up with.
"It's the same way someone may relate to a model of an old T-Bird or Mustang," he says.
"For us old farmers, it's tractors we know best."
While most collectors are retired farmers in their 50s and older, a surprising number of newcomers -- most in their 20s and 30s -- are entering the market, as magazines such as Toy Farmer develop Web pages advertising toy tractors and toy shows.
Pub Date: 12/26/96