Collecting and building an extensive farm toy collection has brought plenty of joy and delight to Red Deerian Charlie Brawn’s life.
It all started when he was just 11 and living on a farm near Carnduff, Saskatchewan. It was also a period of tragedy, as he had just lost his mother.
In the midst of that dark time, something happened that helped brighten the youngster’s world. He caught a glimpse – for the first time – of a bright, gleaming, red Cockshutt tractor being used by his uncle during a visit.
“It was a thrill for a couple of young boys who had never seen a new tractor let alone one on rubber tires.”
Something was sparked in Brawn, now 82, and a lifelong passion was born.
Looking back even further, he describes how his parents helped foster his creativity and imagination as he and his brother Bill would design miniature farmyards. “Dad gave us each an apple box, and orange boxes for buildings,” he recalls. “He also made a tractor out of a piece of wood.”
Imaginations were stirred. “As little boys you have to pretend — one day we would pretend it was a red tractor; the next day we’d pretend it was a green tractor,” he says. “We also had stones for cattle. Mother would give us flower seeds for our farmyards as well. We also used grease pails for grain elevators.”
It was when visiting relatives after he lost his mother that he saw the aforementioned brand new tractor. “My eyes popped out – I was hooked.”
Brawn’s interest in farm machinery, and subsequently in collecting farm toys and models over the years, never wavered through his work as a farmer and later in the oil field.
He always had a particular interest in Cockshutt farm machinery as well — Cockshutt Farm Equipment of Canada Limited was a Canadian pioneer in the development of the farm machinery and equipment industry.
Over the decades, Brawn has collected and built hundreds of intricate toy farm machines. His collection of toys grew steadily and at one point he had a three-stall garage that was pretty much full. At the most, he had more than 4,000 pieces. “It was probably one of the largest collections in Canada at that time.”
But economic ups and downs over the years meant he had to sell portions of the collection. Today, he has about 500 pieces.
But his enthusiasm has never waned. Brawn’s face lights up as he chats about his collection, and he’s about to share it locally on a broad scale like he’s done annually in the City for more than two decades.
And almost since Agri-Trade first started in Red Deer, Brawn has been a regular at the event showcasing his collection for folks in the collector toy show. Agri-Trade runs at Westerner Park from today through to Nov. 12.
Jim Brown organizes this assembly of farm toy collectors and exhibitors from all over western Canada. For Brawn, it’s great fun seeing the wonder in people’s eyes as they check out his collection. He’s also taken his collection on the road to shows across North America.
Meanwhile, another highlight this year for Brawn was having Bill and Helen Cockshutt visit Pioneer Days at Sunnybrook Farm this past August. It was Bill’s great uncle that founded the Cockshutt company in Brantford, Ontario.
Meeting the couple and sharing lots of stories and experiences was extremely meaningful for Brawn. “It was the single, most moving experience of my lifetime,” he says of the event, which also featured a display of his own carefully-crafted Cockshutt models.
Ultimately, Brawn can scarcely imagine not having been a collector through the years.
“It takes me back to the old days. And the thrill of seeing that Cockshutt tractor when I was a kid has been embedded in me ever since I first saw it,” he says reflectively. “It’s an addiction. The world or miniature is fascinating. You make them so they look close to the real thing, and when you finish you can sit back and admire them.”
Sharing his craft with others, however, is what brings the most joy.
“It’s the people – you meet folks from all walks of life,” he says. “You get some old guys looking at the models with tears in their eyes saying ‘I used to drive that tractor way back in the 1930s’. It’s a thrill to see others taking pleasure in what I do.”