More than toys to family of late collector

Town of Belgium woman and her sons keep memories of their husband, father alive by showing his collection of farm toys at annual show

DEB SCHMIDT AND HER SON JOE of the Town of Belgium displayed hundreds of John Deere farm toys Sunday at the annual Wisconsin Antique Power Reunion farm toy show. They and Joe’s twin brother John do so each year in memory of their father Jim Schmidt. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Every year, thousands of farm toys are on display or for sale at Circle B Recreation Center in Cedarburg for the Wisconsin Antique Power Reunion farm toy show.

They’re not just toys, however, to Deb Schmidt of the Town of Belgium

Every year, she and her 23-year-old twin sons, Joe and John, display hundreds of farm toys — all John Deere — in memory of her husband and their father, Jim, who died in 2012.

“We talk a lot about how important this was to him and every year we decide we’re going to keep going, keeping the memory alive,” she said.

Jim had collected farm toys and, later, tractors, all his life but it didn’t become a passion for him until 2002 when the boys were about 7 years old, she said.

“I thought it was great for our little boys. He really involved the boys, took them to tractor shows and toy shows,” she said. The couple also have a daughter, Jennifer, 27.

The family has sold off some of Jim’s collection, but each of the boys have kept their favorites for themselves and they maintain the display for the show at Circle B each year, she said.

 Jim collected John Deere toys and tractors because that’s what he grew up with, she said.

For Len Pautz of Saukville, Allis-Chalmers is his tractor of choice for the same reason.

“I learned to drive on an AC WD 45,” growing up on his father’s farm near Maribel in Manitowoc County, he said. “There was always an Allis there.”

Pautz has a collection of more than 300 toy tractors, plus two antique tractors, which he calls his “big toys.” 

Some of the toys he keeps for his own enjoyment; others he sells at shows like the one at Circle B.

He attends 15 shows a year, he said, some of them out of state, the bigger ones being in Dyersville, Iowa, known as “The Farm Toy Capital of the World,” and St. Louis.

He finds the toys at auctions and sometimes people will look him up because they inherited some toys they don’t want or decided it’s time to unload their collection.

His wife, Julie, often accompanies him to shows and auctions.

“She doesn’t care much for hitting the road at 3:30 a.m. to get to a show, but she likes the people,” he said.

Pautz said he farmed until 1987 and worked on a farm near Cedar Grove for some time but gave that up after he injured his back. That led him to become a massage therapist and personal trainer.

Collecting farm toys has been a hobby, but a paying one, he said.

“I make a little money,” he said. “It works out pretty good. But basically I’m trying to pay for my hobby and my running around.”

Even though they’re toys, they’re not necessarily cheap.

His most expensive toy is an older toy made by Ertl Co. in Dyersville that’s worth up to $800, he said. 

“Some of the newer ones that were made in limited numbers are $400,” he said.

Pautz got into the hobby after his older brother saw a TV series about toy shows.

“I went to a couple shows and bought a couple tractors and that opened the flood gates,” he said.

Pautz’s love extends to actual antique tractors. For instance, he restored a 1929 Allis-Chalmers United tractor, similar to one his great grandfather farmed with, and an Allis-Chalmers 185 Crop Hustler diesel like his father used

“I got orange blood,” he said, referring to the color of Allis-Chalmers tractors.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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