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Lidgerwood man's toy tractor collection not child's play

LIDGERWOOD -- John "Bud" Wisnewski's workshop is something more like Santa's workshop, the walls lined with shelves of toy tractors, implements, cars, planes and other machinery.

The big difference between his Lidgerwood shop and Santa's at the North Pole is that Wisnewski may collect toys, but they're not child's play.

"They don't get played with like toys," Wisnewski said. His metal pieces are precision toys, called so for the attention to detail.

The bulk of his collection reflects his lifelong affiliation with farming, including more than 500 tractors, combines, harvester and other agricultural machinery.

He started collecting around 1980 when he dealt used farm equipment and ran a salvage yard.

"I wanted to get something like this put together, like a museum," Wisnewski explained.

He points to a Versatile 975 he got from a dealer in Milnor as one of his first. The collection grew steadily after that when he built a machine shop about a decade ago. It turned out to be too nice for a shop and instead became home for his collection.

"It's gotten to be quite a hobby," he said, while giving a tour of his tractors, all lined neatly up in shelves on the wall.

"There are no collections any bigger," said his friend, Harvey Dahlen. "Buddy's gone to great detail to collect and maintain them. Every year each one of these is washed and waxed and cleaned. Buddy is meticulous."

Not only meticulous in caring for his treasures, but Wisnewski even keeps a guestbook in the shop for visitors to sign. Viewers from as far away as Bolivia and South Africa have signed the book.

The range of pieces collected reflects the history of modern farming, from a Case steam tractor to a Big Bud, the largest wheel tractor ever built.

Personally, Wisnewski is a John Deere man and has an actual 530, not a toy, in immaculate shape in his shop.

But he appreciates all tractors. The most he ever paid for a piece was $900 each for a Massey-Ferguson 98 Diesel and an Oliver Super 99, both handmade by an Iowa craftsman.

Most have been in the $100 range, and he says a conservative estimate on the value of the collection would be $65,000.

To protect his prized possessions, his shop is wired with alarms and security cameras.

It's turned into a pricey hobby, but he said his wife tells him to do what makes him happy with his money.

And it doesn't just make him happy.

"A lot of the older farmers come in here and say, 'My dad used to have a tractor just like that,'" he said.

"It means a lot. I come out here and clean them and cherish them. It's a hobby for a kid, maybe more than a grown-up, but I enjoy it."

Though he says he's been able to find almost everything he's looked for, it doesn't mean he's done collecting.

He shows a tiny toy Cat bulldozer he got in earlier in the week for $56 and says he was supposed to get some other pieces in the mail.

The one toy he's been waiting for he says hasn't been made, but when a model of a 1952 A John Deere gets released, you'll be able to find it on Wisnewski's shelf.