BEMIDJI, Minn. — For nearly four decades, Lloyd Holy has amassed one of the largest toy tractor collections in the Midwest, curating the collectibles many of which are antiques at his home in Bemidji, Minnesota.

He recently donated the lot of toys to the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers for public viewing just in time for the organization’s 45th annual event this weekend, Aug. 20-22.

“I just thought the time was right,” Holy said. “I like the Pioneer Farmers organization, and I wanted to donate (the toys) before I got too old to handle them anymore.”

“It should be the highlight of this year’s event,” he added. “Going forward, a lot more people can enjoy these toys rather than them sitting here in my house.”

Holy, who is in his 80s, described rehoming the toys as a major undertaking this summer, clocking in an estimated 350 hours of work. He moved them from his Bemidji home to a new building in Lake Itasca, which was specially constructed for displaying the donated items.

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Organizers of the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers event built a new building in Lake Itasca to display Lloyd Holy’s toy tractor collection. Contributed.
Organizers of the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers event built a new building in Lake Itasca to display Lloyd Holy’s toy tractor collection. Contributed.

The collection consists of 900 toy tractors of various farm brands such as John Deere, Oliver, Minneapolis-Moline and IHC, among others.

A former John Deere dealer and farm boy, Holy began his hobby in the early 1980s when he purchased a bundle of tractors from another collector. He soon began attending toy tractor shows throughout Minnesota and North Dakota, adding to the collection.

“I bought 300 of them from a gentleman in Alexandria, Minnesota, and then I just kept adding one, one, one, one after that,” Holy said. “One of my oldest toys is one that I played with as a kid. We never repainted it, we left it original. And then I had one that stayed outside all winter in a sandbox, which we restored.”

Holy’s favorite toy tractor of the bunch is a John Deere GP that is made of wood.

Over the years, he developed a keen and caring eye for the toys, building cabinets and developing an organizational system in his home for them.

“Toys on the shelf get terribly dusty and scuzzy looking, so I built all these cabinets at home,” Holy said. “There’s very few that I can't remember by brand or model. If you had come in and said, ‘I want to see a John Deere 4450,’ then I could get it within a matter of seconds in those cases.”

The new Lake Itasca building has a different configuration than his home, which he admitted will take some getting used to. Nevertheless, Holy will be at the Pioneer Farmers event each day to talk with visitors about the donated collection.

He will also be debuting his new life-sized tractor in the event’s series of parades.

Holy hopes the collection will create a sense of nostalgia for folks who may have grown up on a farm or played with toy tractors in their youth. He said he’s excited for it to be seen by thousands of people and possibly inspire someone to begin their own hobby collection.

“I think you'll find the collection rewarding to see if you’re interested in agriculture but I suppose you don’t have to be to enjoy it,” Holy said. “It just brings back memories for anybody in the agriculture game or machinery game years ago.”

If you go

  • WHAT: Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers' 45th annual event
  • WHEN: Friday-Sunday (Aug. 20-22)
  • WHERE: The Pioneer Farmers grounds are along State Highway 200 adjacent to Itasca State Park, 16914 North Entrance Drive, Lake Itasca.
  • HOW MUCH: Admission is $10 for one day or a three-day pass. Children 12 and younger are free.
  • MORE INFO: www.itascapioneerfarmers.com