WAKONDA, S.D. | To most people, a tape measure is just a tape measure, another tool you need every now and then around the home.
Put a green-and-yellow logo that anyone in the Midwest would immediately recognize on that tape measure, though, and it becomes a collector's item.
"It's a very nice one with the graphics," said Del Schmidt, as he cradled the tape measure sporting a sharp John Deere logo that he had just bought at auction for $325.
The retired Parker, South Dakota, farmer also successfully bid on a pocketknife and an ashtray, both featuring John Deere logos, to add to his collection of hundreds of small items that farm implement dealers in years past would have given to their customers for free.
"I've got an office full of shelves and showcases," Schmidt said.
He and dozens of other John Deere loyalists spent a recent day scooping up everything imaginable that had a John Deere logo stamped on it. Belt buckles, thermometers, clocks, Christmas tree ornaments, salt and pepper shakers, wrenches, wind chimes, coolers, lamps and more.
When it comes to collecting farm-related items, especially toys, someone's almost always willing to pay.
"I think it stays popular because no matter what, people collect what they like and what they know," said Ken Girard, an auctioneer at Girard Auction & Land Brokers Inc. in Wakonda, where Schmidt bought his tape measure.
There will always be farmers, Girard said, and they often have a sentimental attachment to the equipment they, their fathers and their grandfathers used.
Schmidt is a perfect example.
"I farmed my whole life, and I had John Deere stuff," Schmidt said.
He eyed several pieces at Girard's recent sale featuring hundreds of items collected from John Deere dealers. The big-ticket item -- a rarely seen 9-foot John Deere sign in red, black and yellow -- sold for $21,500 to a collector in Indiana who bid via phone.
The sign had drawn huge interest from collectors, but for much of the year, few of Girard's sales attract larger crowds, both in person and online, than farm toys.
Girard presides over farm toy auctions every two weeks from September through April. The day after Schmidt found his collectibles, Girard moved the auction a block down the street to the American Legion hall, which was packed with old and newer toy tractors and implements of all colors and sizes and a wall full of pedal tractors, a particularly popular -- and pricey -- collectible.
Girard had little idea that farm toys were such serious business when he joined the family business 20 years ago. For years, the auction company had conducted estate sales, sold land, farm equipment and "a little bit of everything." Needing to diversify and add new things to sell, Girard conducted an online toy sale for a friend. It did so well that a collector approached him about auctioning off his collection for him. It took off from there.
"It's really grown more than we ever thought it would," Girard said. Of the toys he sells, 80 percent are farm-related.
Toy collectors are everywhere, and collections are often being downsized or liquidated. When that happens, there are other eager collectors ready to buy any hard-to-find items they've been seeking.
"The truly rare stuff has really gone up in value," Girard said, and it can attract numerous online bidders. Items are shipped to winning bidders all over the country and overseas.
An old toy tractor still inside a box that's in mint condition can fetch as much at $3,000, Girard said. The value drops considerably without the box, but the toys are still desirable, and interest seems to be growing. Girard said common toys have become cheaper and can be had for under $100 or $50. It's hard telling how much some of those toys might be worth in the future.
"It's a great time to start a collection," Girard said.
And continue building one. As Girard auctioned off one John Deere-stamped item after another, seasoned collectors stealthily signaled their bids, hoping not only to get a bargain but an upper hand on competing bidders.
Those like Schmidt know that if they can't get what they're after at this sale, there's always another one in the near future.
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DONOR COMMENT: SCHEELS is proud to again support the Mr. Goodfellow charity. SCHEELS is committed to providing resources to local organizations like Mr. Goodfellow that benefit the community and improve the lives of children in Siouxland.
Hey Republicans, giving health care to poor children and pregnant women is a good thing. Get it together and do your job. Renew CHIP - or kids will suffer because of your ineptitude.
Chad Neswick, Sioux City
SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County supervisors declined Tuesday to accept free help from a national law firm that would have summarized the legal implications on the board's practice of observing a moment of silence at the start of its weekly board meetings.
Board Chairman Matthew Ung stressed the supervisors did not consider the offer due to a complaint from an individual or group.
The board began observing a moment of silence at meetings several years ago. The supervisors and meeting attendees typically bow their heads and some silently pray during that time, which usually lasts about 10 seconds.
In an interview, Ung said he decided to revisit the practice after attending a church conference a few months ago where speakers shared information on public policy topics.
"One of the attorneys from First Liberty Institute spoke about how they had been involved in litigation regarding various types of invocation practices at local government meetings. I introduced myself and the firm offered to do a free assessment of the current board’s practices," Ung said.
On the organization's website, First Liberty Institute notes that since 1997 it "is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans...If an American’s religious freedom is threatened, First Liberty stands ready to assist."
Another portion of the site shares that the group is versed to protect religious freedom in the public arena: "First Liberty Institute defends people of all faiths who are facing legal retribution for expressing their religious beliefs in public. At First Liberty, we equip people with the knowledge they need to safeguard their rights, and are committed to restoring those rights when they are violated."
During Tuesday's board meeting, the supervisors ultimately decided not to go into closed session, as Ung recommended, to hear the input of Ken Klukowski, Senior Counsel & Director of Strategic Affairs for First Liberty.
Klukowski, who traveled from the East Coast, said there is "no clear (judicial) precedent one way or the other" existing for judges to rule on moments of silence in public meetings.
In today's politically-charged environment, Klukowski said it is possible an outside group could file a lawsuit on the Woodbury County moment of silence in order "to create a legal episode." He further said "a hostile judge" could put the county practice at risk.
Soon into the discussion, Supervisor Jeremy Taylor questioned Ung several times on why there was concern with the moment of silence and why the outside legal firm was needed, since the county has its own legal counsel in the County Attorney's Office.
Taylor, who is a chaplain in the U.S. Army, said he presumed the issue had been put on the agenda by Ung because the moment of silence might be taken by some people to reference "public prayer."
Assistant County Attorney Joshua Widman, who attended Tuesday's meeting, advised the supervisors that state law would permit the board to discuss the matter in closed session only if a litigation is underway or imminent.
Ung responded that he believes legal action could be imminent.
"What makes you think it is imminent?" Taylor asked.
"Advice received from First Liberty," Ung answered. "I want the board to hear (in closed session) what I have heard."
During the meeting, Taylor called seeking outside advice now as "putting the cart before the horse."
Ung was the sole supervisors who wanted to hold the closed session to discuss the topic with Klukowski, who would not air his assessment of the silent moment in public. Taylor, Rocky De Witt, Marty Pottebaum and Keith Radig all voted against accepting the pro bono services of First Liberty Institute
Ung said he was "disappointed" with the vote.
"Well, thank you for flying from D.C., to see our courthouse," he said to Klukowski, who also frequently writes for the conservative Breitbart website.
After the meeting, Klukowski told the Journal, "Proactive planning is exactly what voters should want in a leader, and I commend Chairman Ung."
SERGEANT BLUFF | Sergeant Bluff City Council members heard mixed views Tuesday on whether the city's pit bull ban should be kept, finessed or eliminated.
They ultimately decided to postpone a decision to seek more community input, but not until after the city's assistant police chief requested the council keep the 14-year-old ban in place, while a council member said he supported rescinding the ban with adequate safety precautions.
"Why fix something that isn't broken?" assistant police chief Brent Rosendahl wrote in a letter submitted to the council to be read by Mayor Jon Winkel in his absence.
He said he and many in the department support keeping the ban, pointing to a statistic on the website DogsBite.org that states pit bulls have accounted for approximately 64-65 percent of dog bite fatalities so far this year.
Rosendahl said he would, however, like to see one change in the ordinance: specifically defining the dog breeds the city considers a pit bull in the code to help police better identify them.
Councilman Bill Gaukel, who was absent due to business, also submitted a letter but said he supported rescinding the ban, with safety measures.
"I think responsible families should have the ability to raise a pit bull just like they would a Labrador, Yorkie or any other breed," he wrote. "(But) I believe it is necessary that we proceed cautiously and allow these animals under certain restrictions, limitations and obligations."
The council's decision to revisit the city's ban began last month, when resident Sam Vice requested a hearing after his American Staffordshire terrier, Nikko, was found by police. American Staffordshire terriers are among a handful of dog breeds categorized as pit bulls.
In the intervening weeks, the council has been gathering information from local experts and community members on the issue. A committee including two council members, police, city staff and a longtime animal rescue volunteer discussed the issue at length and came forward Tuesday with three options.
The first would keep the ordinance as-is with no changes. The second would keep the ordinance but finesse the ordinance's currently vague definition of "pit bull" to include six breeds of dog and would allow pit bulls to remain in foster or rescue situations for up to 90 days. The third option would lift the ban for dogs provided they and their owners meet an extended set of requirements.
Under those requirements, families could have a single pit bull older than 6 months provided the dog was spayed or neutered, registered and micro-chipped, had a training certificate and bite insurance for a minimum of $100,000 and wore a collar and tag while outdoors.
Owners would need to pass a background check, have a fenced-in backyard, be over 19 to handle the dog outdoors and carry a break stick to pry open the jaws in case of a bite. The dog would also need to be muzzled and on a leash of no more than 6 feet when outdoors.
Those on rental properties would require signed permission from the property owner and the police department.
Councilman Ron Hanson said he had surveyed several community members and found approximately three-quarters supported lifting the ban.
"I've always stated that the issue comes down to the irresponsible owner of the pet," he said.
Councilwoman Carol Clark, who said after the meeting she's continuing to mull her position, said she had heard a much different reaction from those she's talked to.
The council will now request a recommendation from the city's Mayors Committee -- a 12-seat board composed of a cross-section of demographics meant to inform city decisions. The committee meets Dec. 6.