National Farm Toy Show
- The National Farm Toy Show—it's a magnet to collectors young and old, seasoned and novice, from throughout the United States and even farther.
I should know. In 2006, our family decided, after several consecutive years at the National Show, to skip. Our daughter and future son-in-law were to be married a week after the National Show—seven short days—and there were last-minute details to be handled, still some work to be done. The logical conclusion, we decided, was to skip the show and stay home.
But then, about two days before the show, we realized we still had lots of time to handle last-minute wedding details. The work would get done, even if we were a little more rushed. The truth was that we wanted to go to the National Show...and we did, including our future son-in-law. Just like all the National Shows we've attended, lots of memories were made.
It really helped us in planning such a last-minute excursion, however, to know what to expect—knowledge gained from previous trips to the National Show.
If you've never been to the National Show but think 2008 is the year to make the trip, here are a few travel tips so you might be better prepared for all the fun that’s in store.
The National Farm Toy Show is held each year the first full weekend of November in Dyersville, Iowa—dates for the 2008 event are Nov. 7-9. General admission hours at Beckman High School and the National Farm Toy Museum gym (the show is held at both locations) are 6-9 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. At Commercial Club Park, where additional vendors are set up, hours are much the same except that displays open about noon and close at 6 p.m. on Friday.
General admission is $5 daily. A floor rights ticket costs $25 for all three days and allows the purchaser to enter at 3 p.m. Friday and be "on the floor" while dealers might still be setting up, as well as an hour earlier than general admission on Saturday and Sunday. Although dealers may or may not be at their tables during these early hours, floor rights tickets offer an advantage (especially Friday afternoon) in beating the crowd and seeing many of the displays and tables. Floor rights tickets can be ordered in advance from Toy Farmer or at the door; general admission tickets are available at the door.
Our experience has been that floor rights tickets are great. Be ready to go in as soon as the doors open and head for that area which you think might interest you most—displays are located in classrooms at Beckman while vendor displays fill the remaining classrooms, hallways, cafeteria and gym, plus the museum gym. Later on Friday and early Saturday, the hallways and gyms at the school and museum become especially congested.
One of the best things you can do upon entering the National Show is to pick up a copy of the show program, put out by the Dyersville Commercial newspaper. These are free and give an abundance of information, such as where vendors are located, specials at area businesses, show history and other feature stories, advertisements for upcoming auctions and shows and much more.
Where to stay?
Veteran show participants know the National Show swells Dyersville, a quiet community of about 4,000, into a boom town about four times that size. Traffic backs up—especially Saturday morning near Beckman, which is located right on Highway 136 just a few short blocks north of Highway 20. Those few short blocks can become quite a distance for those who arrive close to 9 a.m. Saturday and find themselves sitting in traffic.
Parking is at a premium with a paved lot located west of Beckman and additional (non-paved) parking available on the east side of the school. At the busiest show times, drivers will be directed to available parking locations. For a lucky few, parking can be found on nearby streets. Driving around Dyersville can be a definite challenge. Read on for more information about dealing with that situation.
Trying to find a motel room? That can be the first and most immediate challenge in successfully attending the National Show.
Many make motel reservations and travel plans a year in advance. Dyersville features three motels, but don't be surprised if you are looking elsewhere—and don’t be discouraged about this. In the nearly 20 years our family has attended the show, we've never yet stayed in one of the Dyersville motels.
Options abound. For example, the first year we attended the National Show, we camped in a motor home (we made arrangements in advance to use an electrical outlet at a Dyersville business). Given possible weather conditions in Iowa in November, this may not be a top choice but it worked for us that year.
In other years, we have stayed at motels in nearby towns—including Manchester to the west, Guttenberg to the north and Dubuque to the east. One year, we were not able to find anything closer than Waterloo, which is about 70 miles west of Dyersville. That was a long commute and we made plans earlier the next year to avoid that happening again. Get on the Internet and start searching for motels close to Dyersville—www.toyfarmer.com lists a few; use a search engine to find other possibilities. The earlier this can be done, the better.
Besides hotels, there are other choices. The Dyersville Chamber of Commerce (563-875-2311) spearheads a program that coordinates local residents who are willing to open their homes to visitors in need of a room during the National Show. This is an excellent choice, one we've enjoyed many years, because of the great people we've met through this program. Caution should be taken, however, to make sure all arrangements (including the rental price for a bedroom) is agreed upon in advance so that there are no surprises once you arrive in Dyersville.
What to do?
When making lodging arrangements, consider everything you want to do in Dyersville. Of course, the main event is the National Show, which runs from Friday through Sunday. Leave plenty of time to see tables set up by the hundreds of vendors at Beckman High School, the National Farm Toy Museum and more located outside near those locations and at Commercial Club Park.
In addition to vendor tables, numerous displays are set up at Beckman for viewing by those at the National Show. These displays can range from someone's handcrafted version of a particular tractor to the history of agriculture shown through scale models. Scenes might depict someone's farm, agricultural seasons, scale model of a unique barn and much more—these displays are always fun to see, especially when noticing how small details are so skillfully crafted. (Think of a field of corn made from tasseled toothpicks.) Those displays are judged and receive awards during the show. Top entries in the various categories earn a "gold tractor," a gold-plated version of that year's show tractor.
Another attraction is the National Farm Toy Museum, located within walking distance of Beckman High School. The gym area holds vendors with the National Show so admission or floor rights tickets are needed for that area, but the rest of the museum is also open with the regular admission fee waived during the National Show. More than 30,000 farm toys can be seen, as well as a video, farm scenes and historical displays. For those who examine museum displays thoroughly, this attraction alone could take from a couple hours to a whole day.
An auction conducted by Tom Cornwell and Associates begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Beckman auditorium. For more information, contact Tom Cornwell and Associates, (402) 694-2216.
Crafts, food and more are featured at an annual Mercy Medical Center Holiday Festival on Saturday. Free bus service is available to this event. (See more about the bus service below.)
A dinner for collectors is held Saturday at Royal Lanes. For more information about this event or to purchase tickets in advance, contact Toy Farmer at (800) 533-8293.
The sounds of a sanctioned micro-mini pull fill the air at Commercial Club Park on Saturday. Those interested in participating or wanting more information should call Floyd Goucher, (660) 749-5229.
A sanctioned pedal pull is also held for youth attending the National Show.
For these events, free bus service is available throughout all three days of the National Show. Buses run periodically and stop at Beckman, the museum and Commercial Club Park. Additional stops are made at several other locations—in downtown Dyersville, near Evers Toy Store; at Samuelson Pedal Tractors; and at three companies that help give Dyersville the title of "Farm Toy Capital of the World": Scale Models, where additional vendors are set up and where an assembly line showing production has been running in previous years; SpecCast, where company displays can be viewed at the factory; and Ertl, which features an outlet store as well as scale models made by the company.
But there is even more to see and do, although these activities are not necessarily farm toy related. The "Field of Dreams" movie site is located just outside Dyersville and is typically open during the National Show. Admission has not been charged in the past, and visitors can run the bases, play catch or re-create the scene where ghost players walk out of the cornfield (depending upon if fields have been harvested).
The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier is one of only 52 such structures in the United States and is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. The basilica, which is open daily, is located in downtown Dyersville.
More than 1,200 dolls can be seen at the Dyer-Botsford Doll Museum, located in a restored Victorian house—the original home of Dyersville's founder. In addition to dolls, a rare revolving German feather Christmas tree and German ornaments are on display.
Plaza Antique Mall is home to more than 200 dealers offering a wide variety of antiques, collectibles and farm toys. This business is located close to the National Farm Toy Museum.
Next door to the Plaza Antique Mall is the Toy Collector Club of America/SpecCast Outlet Store.
Heritage Trail stretches 26 miles from Dyersville to Dubuque.
Dyersville is located in far eastern Iowa, only about 20 miles from Dubuque, on the Mississippi River and right across the state line from Illinois. One year, we stayed at one of the oldest hotels in Dubuque, located right on the Mississippi River. When we left the hotel on Sunday, we noticed construction taking place just a short distance away. After arriving home, we did some investigating and found out that construction site was the future home of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, sponsored in association with the Smithsonian Institution. From the web site, it would be fun to allow time to tour that museum/aquarium now after the facility has been completed and is open to the public.
Many more attractions, scenery, shops and museums are available within a relatively short distance of the Dyersville/Dubuque area and might interest those attending the National Show, depending upon interests and available time. In addition, other farm toy businesses are located in the area. For our family, the National Show officially begins with a stop at Bossen Implement in Lamont, Iowa. It's west of Dyersville and about 10 miles north of Highway 20 so this stop requires a short detour, but the tractor cookies alone (much less the sale prices) are well worth it. With a little research, other businesses can be found in the area and your own family traditions can be established.
After all, our family is not the only one that travels together to the show, has fun throughout the event and draws on those memories through the year—until the next show rolls around. Our trips to the National Show have lasted from one day—in 2006, when we drove six hours to the show, took in the sights and returned home, all within about a 24-hour span—to about five days long. Usually we are gone from home three days.
And finally ...
The National Show is sponsored by Toy Farmer, which has a booth in the cafeteria at Beckman High School. If you need to renew your magazine subscription, pick up show tractors, buy a binder or want to meet any of the Toy Farmer staff at the show, this booth is the place to go.
Although the show is sponsored by Toy Farmer, with a great deal of planning required throughout the year by company employees, the event could not be held without help from Dyersville residents and groups, who also share in the financial success of the show. The Beckman Music Boosters, for example, appreciate business at the school's lunch stand with profits benefiting students in the music program. Local groups help with parking and ticket taking and, as a result, share in show revenues.
Those who enter the National Show by the main doorway at Beckman High School will see a variety of display tables featuring wares from local groups, such as Chamber of Commerce, Iowa FFA, Camp Courageous, Lions Club, Sons of the American Legion, Historical Society, Field of Dreams and Girl Scouts. Those groups are not charged setup fees but retain profits from sales made at those tables.
Toy Farmer organizers say such gestures are a way to give back to the community.
And it takes a community to put on an event like the National Show, that's for sure. Think of hosting 16,000 of your favorite friends and the work it would take to keep everyone not only happy, but well fed, entertained and ready to come back the next year.
It's something you have to see to believe.