by Luann Dart
James Balk started collecting farm toys in 1960, when he purchased an International Harvester Farmall 450 toy tractor for $2.75 for his newborn son. More purchases over six decades led to an immeasurable collection neatly stored in pristine boxes for future generations to enjoy.
And the retired farmer from Waucoma, Iowa, has become a fixture in the hobby. Many recognize him at the entrance to the National Farm Toy Sho in Dyersville, Iowa, where he's been a familiar volunteer for the last 34 years.
"Dad collected because he loves toys," says Jim's oldest son, Roger Balk, who received that first tractor. "Whatever was made in the farm boy business, Dad had. He had everything."
A LOVE FOR TOYS
Jim was born in 1937, so by the time he was old enough to play with toys, World War II had created a shortage of materials to manufacture farm toys.
"After the war was over, my younger brothers got the toys for Christmas and birthdays. I do remember I got a Judy's farm set, a dump track and a sand shovel that I wore out. However, I got the softballs, baseballs,, footballs and basketballs. I never cared for sports. I was more interested in the toys they got, like the plastic Farmall M and wagon, New Idea corn picker and other toys," Jim describes.
After he graduated from high school in 1955, Jim joined the U.S. Navy, spending 15 months with the Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington D.D., then becoming a Navy Seabee. Seabees are member of the U.S. Naval Construction Forces.
"I spent most of my time driving dump trucks and transit mixers. That made my interest in construction toys when I got out of the Navy in May 1959," he says.
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