A real life Toy Story

Neil Isleys used to play with an old metal tractor in his grandmother’s toy box.

“It was a Massey 44 … It was my uncle’s,” he explained.

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When he grew up he took the beat up old toy and restored it.

“It was missing a fender and seat,” said Isley, who added he took it to a toy show in Saskatoon back in 1996. “I was able to find the parts and the history of the toy.”

The idea was to put the restored toy back in the toy box for another generation.

But his grandmother said the tractor deserved to be on a shelf, which is just where Isley put it in his Delisle, SK home.

Now 22-years later the restored tractor has been joined by more than 200 more in a garage converted into an old style diner where the collection resides. All of the toys were made by the Lincoln Toys, the company Isley, who attended the Yorkton Toy and Collectable Show on the weekend, had learned about at the Saskatoon show.

“Lincoln Toys was a Canadian company,” he said, adding they produced toys from 1946 through to 1959 in Windsor, ON.

The company’s most successful years were just after the Second World War until the early 1950s. As the fifties wore on the Lincoln toy designs became “out-of-date,” said Isley, adding there was increased competition too coming primarily out of Japan where the toys were cheaper to produce and were more detailed as well.

The Lincoln toys were “all pressed steel,” said Isley, who collects with his wife Allison, herself a lover of the Lincoln line.

The pressed steel fit with the history of the plant itself.

“The company prior to the war did carry accessories,” he said, adding during the war they switched to producing ammo boxes and then toys after the war to meet the demand of a boom in babies.

“Lincoln Specialties, also based in Windsor, ON, was the distributor for the large line of pressed steel toys between 1946 and 1958. Windsor Steel and Ellwood Toys of Tilbury, ON are the two companies which originally produced the Lincoln Toys. Windsor Steel and Ellwood Toys went out of business in the late 1950s. However, their influence on toy design lasted long after as some toy trucks were kept in production by a series of companies, including Li’l Beaver Toys and Saturn Toys, until the early 1970s. The original logo of Li’l Beaver Trucks, a division of Irwin Toys of Toronto, contains both of Canada’s best known symbols, the beaver and the maple leaf,” details www.historymuseum.ca

In terms of what toys Lincoln produced, Isley said it was a very diverse array of products.

“They had a little bit of everything,” he said.

That said, Isley said one of the most notable products were Massey Harris tractors and implements.

“They had the contract for Massey Harris in Canada,” he said.

Those pieces are highly coveted as they cross the lines among collectors. Not only does an avid Lincoln collector want the various models -- some have wooden wheels, some rubber, others have a seat on a spring others a solid pedestal – but farm toy collectors are on the lookout too.

And even a single toy often had multiple models.

“They had three different styles of dump trucks,” he said.

And the logos matter too. There are people who collect Coca-Cola or Planters Peanuts memorabilia, so a Lincoln panel truck with those logos have more collectors interested.

The Lincoln line also offered toys in various colour schemes, some rather garish. Isley pointed to a grey panel truck, with yellow trim along the bottom, and a red back door. While it might sound hideous he reminded toys are made for children, and they like bright colours.

Isley said the hobby has changed.

“Canadian and American Pickers (the television shows) have changed the point of view on Canadian toys,” he said. “… It’s not the way it used to be.”

Isley said 20 years ago $20-$50 could buy you a nice Lincoln toy, not a rare one, but a good example of a more common model.

“Today you wouldn’t be able to touch it for under $100 even in tough condition,” he said.

And then there are the boxes, a real rarity collectors covet. Metal toys can survive a lot of play by children. The box it would have come in is usually tossed away.

Again pointing to a Massey tractor model, Isley said it might bring $250. The box would add $1400 to the value.

So a couple of years ago when a fellow from Foam Lake approached Isley with a Lincoln Sand Hopper, complete with a box, he was ecstatic and bought it.

So what is Isley’s favourite piece? He was quick to point to a TCA airplane, but that is one he has.

There are always Holy Grails a collector pursues. Isley’s is a 21-inch Lincoln Crane and Hopper. He admits the piece is something of an oddball, and maybe not as desirable among collectors as the trucks and their logos, but he has grown to appreciate the unusual pieces the company produced.

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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