|Third Generation Farmer Drives the “Big Guys” But Loves His Miniatures!|
Eric Smith’s grandfather, William Smith, didn’t realize how he was impressing his six year old grandson about 40 years ago when he gave him a toy Ford tractor.
While Eric now drives the "big boy" Massey Ferguson and Ford tractors while plowing, cultivating and harvesting on the family’s Rock Springs farm, it’s the hundreds of miniatures—including that original blue Ford—that completely line the shelves of one room of his family’s home that provide him with the most pleasure.
The top of his 40th birthday cake even featured the photo of him as a youngster proudly holding the blue tractor.
"I guess I just enjoy farm equipment of all sizes," he noted. "Ever since I was five or six, I’ve just loved collecting these toys."
And Eric is not alone. It’s an enjoyable obsession shared by many. A simple typing of "miniature tractor collectors clubs" in any Internet search engine will result in literally thousands of hits!
While the tiny to bigger-play-size tractors seem to be in every nook and cranny of the room (and spill over into display shelves in the living room), it’s even more amazing when you learn Eric recently gave his brother, Scott, more than 300 of the miniatures to display himself!
And there was an entire collection of Hot Wheels cars as well, but those were stolen. (Security for the current tractor and equipment collection is now in place!)
His wife April, who works for a local attorney, knows she can always buy Eric a much-appreciated gift as long as she buys something that’s small and has wheels!
Eric was eating at a Rainbow Crossing café near his home a few years ago when two men pulled up in a truck pulling a trailer with a completely refurbished Waterloo Boy tractor.
"I just had to just push my plate away and walk across the parking lot and talk with them," Eric said.
"I admired the tractor they had restored. But then I told them I had a toy iron one just like that. They wanted to see my collection so they followed me to the house. They stood out in my driveway and offered me $500 for the toy, but I refused, explaining my wife had bought it for me.
"Later when I told April about it, she said it was good I hadn’t accepted, so I still don’t know what she originally paid for that one!
"It’s the history behind those special pieces that causes a man to leave a good meal and walk across a parking lot," Eric smiled.
The original literature says, "Anything that can be done on the farm by horses can be accomplished by the Waterloo Boy Tractor." Those tractors, which were first made in 1916, had a two-cylinder engine that burned kerosene, cheaper for farmers to purchase than other fuels.
There were automotive-type sliding gears, although farmers who wanted more speed could order "bull pinion gears" as an add-on!
Eric figures the love of farm equipment just comes naturally because "farming’s in my blood."
He and April are the third generation to live and work the family farm.
His grandpa William and grandmother Pearl lived there for many years and worked cattle.
Then his late father, A.C. Smith, and mother, Dot, worked the farm for many years, having chicken houses. (Dot, who now lives in Trussville, retired from Hayes Aircraft in the late 1990s). The Smiths had an egg route in Birmingham for a while and raised hay and cattle along with the layers.
Eric sold the chicken houses after 12 years of his ownership "because of the high overhead costs."
He still farms the family’s 62 acres and some leased land, raising hay and five Quarter Horses.
During the last year, he’s also begun working at the Blount County Farmers Co-op, working in the warehouse in the winter and doing field treatments in the summer and spring.
In the family’s "spare time" (words the couple doesn’t much include in their vocabulary!), Eric has enjoyed competing—and winning—in team roping events throughout the Southeast while April enjoys barrel racing in National Barrel Racing Association sanctioned shows.
"I’ve rodeoed in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama and jackpotted some, too," Eric said.
Eric’s daughter, Tasha Smith, 21, also enjoys riding when she visits.
"I enjoy the Quarter Horses. I showed horses for a while with my dad. And I guess we all just love to ride," he explained.
But it’s the tiny tractors that seem to provide the most day-to-day enjoyment.
Eric has shown parts of his collection at events at Palisades Park, Snead Park and Locust Fork.
Some are truly collector’s editions like the John Deere Combine Prestige still wrapped in Styrofoam in a fully-protected box.
Then there are tinier boxes of precision-detailed tractors and other farm equipment less than an inch long which also remain carefully in their packages to preserve their value.
"There’s just so much history here. There’s the older equipment, when the old engines were just replacing horses and mules, all the way up to the more mod
ern tractors, combines and harvesters where they have the tiny cabs just like their bigger counterparts, with the detail showing everything from the GPS to the tiny CD players. In some of these micro-minis, the attention to detail is almost unbelievable," Eric explained.
But it’s the ‘hands-on" toys Eric really loves. There’s a small table in the "tractor" room where Eric comes to "play" with some of the less-monetarily-valued, but truly loved equipment.
"There’s some I set up like they’re plowing or really working. I just come in here and shut the door. It’s just a good way to relax," Eric said. "They bring me a lot of joy and peace."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.