Scheibe has done so since January 1978, when she and her husband, Claire, decided to do something with all of the farm toys they’d been buying as part of the antiques business they had recently started out of their home in LaMoure, North Dakota.
“My husband started putting out a price sheet once a month for the toys,” Scheibe recalls. “They started having a following: people were calling him every night, talking for hours about the history of these toys, and were there other collectors. Finally, I said, ‘maybe we should do a newsletter.'”
Her husband contacted everyone on his mailing list and asked them for $7.50 to cover a year’s worth of printing costs. When the Scheibes started, they had 17 subscribers; within a year, their black-and-white newsletter had 500.
Today, Toy Farmer has a subscription base of 15,000, spanning continents from Australia to the U.S. and Europe to South America. “It grew relatively slowly,” says Scheibe, whose husband died in 2000. “Just like your children: they’re babies, and then they grow up.” Scheibe receives reader requests about topics to cover — this month’s issue includes stories about pedal tractors used by Amish farmers, and Chuck Eckel, a custom-built toy maker — and also keeps busy attending three annual farm toy shows, where she displays model tractors made specifically for the occasion. You can buy toys like those on the Toy Farmer website, where you’ll find miniature barns, John Deere tractors, trucks, and construction vehicles. The latter two are a tie-in with Scheibe’s other publication, Toy Trucker and Contractor, a publication with some 8,000 subscribers. Scheibe also runs a farm toys museum out of the converted barn on her land, which used to be owned by her husband’s family and is now leased to a farmer; both Schiebe’s home and business are still located there.
“Quite a few” of the magazine’s subscribers still live on farms, says Scheibe, but because “there are fewer and fewer farms, more and more collectors are people who have some nostalgia around the toys and remember what farming was like.” A lot of her readers, she adds, were children who grew up on farms and remember getting a free toy tractor when they went with their families to the dealership. Perhaps as a way to capitalize on that nostalgia, many toys are now made with the idea of being collectibles; manufacturers will reproduce tractor models or revamp older toys with new detailing.
Has the growing interest in sustainable farming among the younger generation translated to more business for Scheibe? “The vast majority of people who are collecting are of a different persuasion,” she says, adding that she and her two sons are “very, very involved” in the sustainable farming movement. “So I don’t know that it’s brought us more business. But we see that’s the way that agriculture is probably going.”
And, given the perennial nostalgia for old things, it seems that wherever farming goes, Toy Farmer will go, too.