Niagara Gazette — It all started with a single baby toy. Now, 32 years later, that one toy tractor has grown into a collection of more than 3,000 items that is quickly outgrowing the large building that was constructed specifically to house it.
Clifford Grant has been collecting “farm” toys, mostly John Deere items, since his son Tracy was born in 1971. The first tractor was quickly followed by another — and another — and another.
“We started out keeping them all in the house, then we built a room behind the garage, then we moved them to their own building in 2000,” Grant said.
The Grants held an open house in 2001 to show off their growing collection, and many open houses followed.
This year, Grant’s Toy Farm hosted its first “regular hours” from 1 to 5 p.m. the first two weekends of the month, from June to August.
Grant said that so far, about 70 people have visited the “complex,” which includes the Toy Barn, as well as the Tractor Barn, which houses larger pedaled toy tractors, as well as a growing assortment of antique farm equipment, tools, milk bottles and canning jars. There are also several “real” tractors on display outside the buildings.
Although there are plenty of different collections inside the buildings, John Deere products dominate. There are the tractors, of course, but there are also hundreds of other John Deere items, including hats, shoes, plates, lamps, pillows, board games, Christmas lights, Legos, banks, lunch pails, cookie jars, wind chimes … the list goes on and on. In fact, patrons who use the restroom will find a fully furnished John Deere bathroom.
“John Deere has a great brand, they make everything,” Grant said.
One of the sections of the museum includes a portrait of John Deere himself, that was given to Grant during a visit to the John Deere Welland, Ontario facility.
“We went to Welland for a tour, and one of the engineers who was planning to retire took the portrait off his office wall to give to me. He said it was because he always wanted us to remember our trip to Welland,” Grant said.
Now, the portrait hangs in a place of honor in the museum, along with other items that depict the life of the man who started the iconic company.
Grant and his wife Susan, keep the hundreds of displays organized and immaculate. Many are kept in cases Grant purchased from local stores that went out of business, and one display is even perched overhead on an antique ladder handmade by Grant’s brother-in-law’s grandfather. The ladder, made from “natural” wood, not lumber, has no nails — the rungs are pegged directly into the wood.
The collection also includes an entire group of miniature farm implements handmade by Middleport resident Elmer Schultz, who gave the Grants his collection because he knew they would treasure and display it for others to enjoy. Schultz, now in his 80s, has visited the museum to see his handiwork.
In fact, there are many other items in the two buildings that have been given to the Grants, most are antique tools displayed in the Tractor Barn.
The Grants know the history of each and every one of the thousands of items on display, and are experts on John Deere products, as well as the toy replicas —and they are anxious to share their knowledge with visitors.
They always welcome groups, by appointment, and have hosted tours for several historical societies, Boy Scout troops, schools, and senior citizen groups.
“People like to come in and recognize a tractor or something else they remember from their childhood,” Grant said.
The Grants have traveled to John Deere facilities in several states, as well as internationally in Germany and Canada. They also go to several toy shows each year, are members of the 2-Cylinder Club and subscribe to Toy Farmer Magazine, the bible of toy tractor collectors.
Their latest display, in the Tractor Barn, is a large wall-mounted map the United States with pins in it showing all of the places they have visited.
Next, the Grants would like to add a John Deere-themed kitchen and bedroom to the second floor of the Tractor Barn.
“There is always something different to see every time you visit. You can never see everything in one visit,” Sue Grant said.
The retired couple plan to continue to travel and add to their extensive collection, and look forward to sharing their treasures with anyone who wants to stop by.If you go WHAT: Grant's Toy Farm WHERE: 3251 Hosmer Road, Gasport WHEN: 1 to 5 p.m. today, Aug. 11, Sept. 1 and 8. Also by appointment COST: Free admission, but donations accepted CONTACT: 772-7234; www.GrantsToyFarm.com or GrantsToyFarm@gmail.com