From the outside, the farm off a long gravel road looks just like any other. But inside a shed on the property, you’ll find something incredible. A collection of nearly 600 farm toys, including semi trucks, collector cars, and other farm paraphernalia. It’s hard to imagine that a collection of this size only took a few years to grow.
Don Redalen and his wife Penny say this collection started when Penny wanted to paint the front porch walls red. “He said, ‘You can’t paint them!’” says Penny. “So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll cover ‘em with beer signs.’” And cover them with beer signs, they did. In fact, the front porch walls filled with beer signs so quickly that they had to move their collection to a shed on their property used to store farm equipment.
While the collection started in the spring of 2015, it wasn’t until later that year that it really started to grow. What led to the growth of Redalen’s collection was an unfortunate diagnosis. Thanksgiving weekend, Redalen began experiencing intense pain behind his eye. “I told my wife we gotta go to the emergency room,” he says. “I was convinced it was a brain tumor.”
What he thought was a brain tumor, was actually shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash. And although shingles typically presents on the torso, Redalen experienced it on the left side of his face. “I had never heard of shingles on your face,” Redalen says, but when the doctor told him to look in the mirror, he saw that half of his face was breaking out in painful blisters. While shingles isn’t a life threatening condition, it can be very painful.
It was during recovery that Redalen found himself in a dark and depressing place. “I essentially didn’t leave the house for four months, I couldn’t drive” he says. To get Don out of the house, Penny started taking him to antique stores, where he started to find more items to add to his collection. “We went down to Iowa, went to different places around here at first,” says Don. The number in his collection seemed to skyrocket once he discovered the internet, however. “I was doing online auctions, mostly local, and pretty soon I’d be looking at four or five auctions at a time,” he says. “I was kind of addicted to it.”
Soon enough, word of his collection started to grow. That was when someone introduced Redalen to eBay. Redalen says that discovering eBay was a game-changer for his collection, “Wow! That was easy. Buy. Buy. Buy.”
Nearly five years after his shingles diagnosis, his collecting has really slowed. His collection has simply grown to the point of where he doesn’t have the space to add to it. Today, Redalen’s collection spans all four walls of his shed, floor to ceiling, along with display cases going down the middle. He started putting up shelves to hold all the semis, but quickly ran out of shelving, “instead of shelves, I just started stacking” he says. His collection of toy semis include just about every company imaginable, from Tractor Supply Company and Casey’s Gas Station to Kraft Singles and Green Giant.
Redalen’s passion for farm toys stemmed from a toy he had growing up. “I had a sandbox toy… a semi truck, growing up that my brother and I played with,” he says, “then my son played with it, and after he left for college it was still in the sandbox.” That sandbox toy now sits in a corner of Redalen’s shed among all his other toys.
Redalen adds that his shed and collection has really provided a place of rest and relaxation, especially during a time like the past year when things weren’t open. “It is nice to have a place to go,” he says, “to enjoy a break in the action, listen to music, have a beer.”
And while Redalen says the shingles part is over, he still experiences postherpetic neuralgia. Which means that his pain is constant, although somewhat better with medication. One thing Redalen encourages everyone to do is get the shingles vaccine to help prevent the disease. “I’m eager to tell people, don’t think you can’t get it… it’s more common than you think.”
Thanks to his collection and the comfort it brought him, Redalen is doing well today. Growing his collection of vintage toys “was very good therapy to get through the shingles,” he says. “You find yourself in dark places. I needed something to pull me out of that. This did the job, and I’m very thankful that I survived it.”