Once Jim Lakatos got the idea in his head, he knew what he had to do. He just didn’t know how much time it would take to get the job done.
Lenawee County Fair board member Earl Kelley had been after Jim to put together a fair display from his farm toy collection, but Jim was hesitant due to security issues where the collectibles would be shown.
Once changes were made so that Jim felt comfortable about bringing some toys over, he came up with the idea of creating a special item for the display—something to give to Earl, a 40-year fair board member.
Jim decided to create a model of Earl’s puller tractor named “My Last Excuse.” Working with David Whelan, Earl was named the 2010 Puller of the Year by the Wolverine Pullers truck and tractor pulling organization.
Jim was stymied immediately in his search for a toy tractor to use as the base for his project.
“The trouble was finding a tractor to start with,” Jim said. “I hated to spend a lot of money when I was going to cut it up.”
He finally gave in and paid about $40 on eBay. Later, of course, he saw one for less than half that price.
A few parts—including tires, seat and safety cage—had to be purchased from model part supply stores. Many other features Jim created himself—the front bracket for the weight, the chrome and gauges on the hood, the side panels. He didn’t like the looks of the axle so he fashioned his own from a radio antenna.
With the fair approaching, Jim was soon running short on time.
“I’m really getting in a bind here,” Jim told his cousin, Dave Lips. “I’m not going to make it if I don’t get some help.”
Dave spent a Sunday afternoon in Jim’s workshop and hope stayed alive for the Saturday set-up time.
“I worked feverishly on it,” Jim said. “I had to paint it Wednesday night and finished about 1 a.m.”
That was one of those hot, humid July evenings and Jim carried the model into his basement to help with drying.
“I like thick paint,” Jim says. “If you don’t put three or four coats on, it looks dull.”
Jim was working with Ken Fether of Simi Air Vinyl Graphics for a decal to replicate the painting on Earl’s tractor. Earl’s daughter sent images of the painting to Ken who created a miniature version.
Ken wanted the tractor Thursday but Jim waited until Friday noon for the paint to dry. Even that was pushing things.
“It was still rubbery and would leave fingerprints,” Jim said. “I told Ken, ‘Whatever you do, don’t handle the paint.’”
Ken finished his work around 4 p.m. and Jim brought the tractor home to add the remaining pieces. He thought it was complete around midnight, discovered one detail missing and finally went to bed around 1:30 Saturday morning.
“It took a little longer than I thought it would,” he said, “but I was really quite pleased with the way it turned out.”
His work is slowed down some by the Parkinson’s Disease that began affecting him four or five years ago. Jim was a right-handed person all his life, but that arm doesn’t function as it once did. Instead, he’s learned to become proficient with his left hand.
“I’m thankful that it’s not any worse than it is,” he said. “I’m really quite fortunate for as long as I’ve had the disease.”
Jim knew how he wanted Earl to first see the model. It would just come as a surprise at the fair. He placed the new model into the fair display and waited for Earl to discover it. That took a little prompting.
As Jim arranged his display, Earl was in and out of the room several times.
“How does everything look, Earl?” Jim asked.
Everything was fine.
A couple of hours later, Earl came through and Jim asked, “Do we need to switch anything around?”
It looked good to Earl.
Finally, on the third visit, Lanny Simpkins who was watching the exchange led Earl to the tractor with a few glances directed toward the surprise.
“Where did you get that?” Earl asked with amazement.
“I made it,” Jim told him. “It’s going to be yours when the fair is over.”
Jim couldn’t part with it immediately. He plans to give it away for good at the Lenawee County Agricultural Society banquet in October.
Until then, he’s keeping it around the house to admire. It’s going to be hard to part with the one-of-kind beauty and he really wishes he’d created a pair of them.
Jim has collected for more than two decades
You could go to a farm toy show every week of your life if you had the time and inclination, but Jim Lakatos isn’t that crazy.
He’ll venture out to about 20 shows a year, however, mostly within about three hours from his home near Morenci.
“I’m always on the lookout for one-of-a-kind things,” he said, which explains the belt buckles, wristwatch, tape measures, key chains, ashtrays, thermometers, door stickers, etc.
It’s not just little tractors and combines that help fill his display cases, but that’s by far the bulk of his collection.
Most of his toy collection is 1/16th scale, the size of the toys he grew up with.
“Some of these things I played with as a kid,” Jim said looking around his display cases. “I was fortunate to save quite a bit of what I had.”
He points to a Farmall 560 that he calls his favorite.
“That’s the one I played with the most because it was like the tractor we had,” he said.
When Jim’s father went out farming for the day, Jim would bring along a basket of toys and join his cousins.
“He’d leave us at the house and we’d play all day.”
Jim had a recent discussion about his grown-up toys with his wife. He showed her a special Case tractor—one of a few that were mixed in with the regular models. He told his wife it’s worth about $200.
“Are you going to sell it?” she asked.
Jim said he wasn’t.
“Then it isn’t worth $200,” she answered.
He’s found his experience as a collector to be very satisfying, and that includes the many friends he’s made over the years.
“I’ve met some really nice people over the years,” he said. “If I had to quit, that’s what I’d miss the most.”