Tractor beaming

Published 9:35 am Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Let me know before you throw” is the motto used by Don Gross who has turned a hobby into a business, plus promoting an annual show at the Northbridge Mall. And that hobby is firmly based on farm toys and other nostalgic collectibles.

“I’m a farm boy who went to school in Hayfield. … I had three career choices: teaching, farming and barbering,” he said.

After graduation from Hayfield High School in 1965, Gross went to Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. He graduated in 1969 and that fall became a fifth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School. The following year he met a new first-grade teacher at this school, and she later became his wife.

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Gross taught for 14 years at Hawthorne, 20 years at Lakeview Elementary School and then retired. Since, he’s been involved with his hobby and business activities.

“Two people really got me going with toy collecting,” he explained.

One was Randy Tuchtenhagen, who invited him to go along on a visit to a toy show in Mankato years ago. At this show Gross became aware of the Toy Farmer Magazine from LaMoure, N.D.

“This planted the seed,” he noted

The second person is Ordean Swain, his wife’s cousin who lives near Zumbrota and collects tractors large and small.

He said Swain suggested there should be a toy show in Albert Lea. And in 1990 the logical place for this show should be the Northbridge Mall.

Gross explained the first show had 12 exhibitors or dealers with 24 tables and was based on the center court. This year the 20th annual Tiger City Farm Toy Truck & Collectibles Show, scheduled for Feb. 6 and 7, will have over 80 exhibitors or dealers on over 260 tables and be all over the mall.

Three of the Northbridge staff people he specifically cited for their help in making this show a success through the years are Annette Schultz, Pam Folkens, and Barb Fate.

Three years ago Gross took over most of the former cafeteria portion of the Skyline Plaza for use in exhibiting and selling his accumulation of toy items. The result is the present Plaza Farm Toys operation.

“The majority of the stock is mine,” he said.

There are also items from fellow collectors Bob Fjelbroten and Joe VanReese who also help with the store’s operations.

“We buy, sell and trade. However, we have no lamps, radios, dishes or furniture,” he said.

“For kids our place is like a museum,” he added.

Gross commented that right now vintage magazines of the pre-1970s era are very popular items for collectors.

This Albert Lea toy collector and hobbyist said he exhibits at five indoor shows, two outdoor flea markets, plus the Freeborn County Fair in the former fire truck building each year. One of those flea markets is the famous Gold Rush Days at Oronoco, north of Rochester.