Eagle Bend man has enormous toy tractor collection

Years ago, a vintage toy tractor caught Marvin Hernwall’s eye one Christmas. His life hasn’t been the same since. 

Pat and Marvin Hernwall’s John Deere tractor is similar to those Marvin’s father used on the family’s Eagle Bend farm. While Marvin doesn’t have a lot of acreage on the couple’s Garfield home, he does have a huge collection of vintage farm toys, trucks and more displayed throughout their home. Photo by Carol Stender

The tractor, a featured  holiday item at a local store, reminded Marvin of the farm implements used on his family’s Eagle Bend dairy operation. He bought it and also the vintage model the store offered the next year. One was a Fordson and the other a John Deere.

It was the start of what’s become quite a collection of toy tractors, farm implements, trucks, windmills and even several covered wagons he’s made from kits. All are displayed in the Garfield home where Marvin and his wife of 27 years, Pat, live. 

He isn’t sure how many pieces he has, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot. 

“I really should do an inventory one day,” he said with a smile. 

He did sell some of his childhood farm toys at his father’s estate auction on July 4, 1989.

“I wasn’t going to get into this,” he said of the hobby. 

But he continued to collect the vintage toys. He still does. 

Marvin purchases the vintage toys at auctions, online and from other collectors. He rarely buys any at farm toy shows. 

Besides purchasing from collectors in the U.S., Marvin has received pieces from Germany and Russia. One of his items is a Russian made tractor. 

Marvin’s humor is evident in a scene he constructed with part of his toy tractor collection. The scene shows a farmer on his tractor talking to a Highway patrolman with people milling about the tractor. Photo by Carol Stender

He restores some of the pieces; and others he custom builds from his workshop in the couple’s basement. He uses common items in his restorations, from a typewriter belt for a belt on an implement to a bent paper clip used for a lever. 

The shelves in his Garfield home are filled with his collection. But it’s not just a line up of tractors and implements. Interspersed amidst the pieces are toy farm animals and small replicas of people. 

And the people sitting on the tractors? He paints them. 

“I don’t think that some people like that,” he said. “But I like it. I have never seen a green man in my life.” 

The men and women miniature dolls in his displays are often part of a farm scene. One tractor has a farmer talking to a highway patrolman. Several other people are milling about. 

A nearby truck represents a MnDOT vehicle complete with the department’s decal on the truck door. 

He has Wyandotte truck models and Tootsie cars. There’s a tractor with a sickle bar mower and tractors pulling hay racks. 

Marvin renovates some of the pieces and custom builds others in a basement workshop. Using super glue with paper clips and typewriter belts, he makes levers for tractors and belts for implements. 

He enjoys the process. “It’s interesting to go on the Internet and see how the muffler was designed or where a part was located,” he said. 

Marvin Hernwall’s collection includes tractors and trucks plus windmills and covered wagons. Photo by Carol Stender

A room nearby houses most of Marvin’s collection. He has quite a variety from Minneapolis Moline to John Deere and Massey Harris to Cockschutts. Different eras are represented throughout his collection as are numerous makes and models.

A section of the collection features toys he’s sandblasted with another toy collector enthusiast.

Even though he rarely buys anything at toy shows, Pat will drive him to the events. 

“Someone has to drive for him because by the time he gets done looking at it all, he’s tuckered out,” she said. 

Pat supports his hobby, but she rarely, if ever, touches it. Shortly after the couple married, one of the items rolled off a shelf. She felt so bad, she wrote notes saying, “I’m sorry.” 

Marvin is understanding and said if something happens to a piece, despite how careful one might be, well, things happen. 

Pat said she won’t dust the pieces, but the two work together every September to move some of the pieces to a display at the Dalton Threshermen’s Association Show. The pieces they pick reflect the show’s featured line and are displayed, with other vintage toy collectors’ items, in a 48-foot long by 60-inch high display case Marvin made for the event.

That’s not the only thing he’s constructed. Marvin also built the couple’s house. He started construction in 1980 and moved 2,000 logs, using a wide front John Deere B, from a Tamarack swamp located on the Eagle Bend farm. The logs were cut into boards, and he started construction on the house. When he started collecting farm toys, Marvin made glass-front display cases and cabinets using the same Tamarack wood. 

Once his vintage farm implement collection grew, Marvin built shelves and glass front cabinets to house it. 

The skills he uses for the woodwork, construction and toy renovation he credited to his father. His father’s use of mostly John Deere tractors and implements is noted in the number of implements in Marvin’s collection. He recalled his father using John Deeres to till the farm’s 143 acres which was part of the 21-milking cow dairy. 

A line of toy tractors, complete with drivers, are displayed on a wooden ox yoke. The tractors are part of Marvin Hernwall’s collection. Photo by Carol Stender

Marvin didn’t stay on the farm, a decision he said his father made for him, but he did attend two years of electrical training at Wadena Technical College. He spent four years in the Air Force and returned to Minnesota where he worked in the Twin Cities at Honeywell, 3-M and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. But Marvin wanted to move back to the area where he grew up. 

When he returned, he purchased the Garfield property and built his home.

Marvin was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, and he turned his attention to painting. Several of his pieces are displayed throughout the home and focus on the farmsite scenes he recalled from the family’s farm. 

Pat is equally talented, but, instead of toy renovations, she focuses on fabric, thread and needle. She has made several quilts – all by hand and not machine. One design focused on different tractor models. 

Together they’ve created a homey atmosphere complete with paintings, vintage collections and handmade quilts. And, even though the shelves seem full of the vintage toys, like any true collection, there’s always room for more.