Tabor's Terrific Toys
Gary Tabor of Williamsfield Township has collected metal trucks, tractors and other toys for 40 years, but it was just in the last seven years that he opened his collection to tours. He stands in the steel building that he constructed to house the collection.
Toy museum tucked inside farm building on rural road.
Story and photo by Carl E. Feather
Originally published Jan. 30, 2014
WILLIAMSFIELD TOWNSHIP -- One would think that a man of nearly 80 years of age would have enough toys if his stash requires a 24-by-60-foot building to contain it all.
Not so for Gary Tabor of Williamsfield Township, who has been collecting farm-related toys for four decades.
"I'm guilty," says Gary, who continues to search estate sales, flea markets and garage sales for toys to add to his collection. "It's not a waste of money with the way interest rates are. (The value) of the toys has grown a lot faster than a bank account would have grown. And this is something I can look at it and other people can enjoy it."
Gary's collection is housed in a very plain addition to the dairy barn on his Simons Road farm in Williamsfield Township. One of the signs on the building warns that there is nothing in the building worth dying for; a second one, on the door, simply identifies the window-less building as his "man cave."
First-time visitors are overwhelmed by the diversity and size of the collection, which lines every wall and takes up most of the floor space in the building, especially during the winter months. Gary says he began to document his collection but stopped when he reached 2,000 pieces, and that does not include the small items, such as the "Match-box-sized" toy cars.
Although open to the public by appointment, Gary does not advertise his collection as a museum. Indeed, he does not advertise at all, and it has been only in the past seven years that he has opened the collection for public visitation.
"I guess it's a museum," Gary says of his collection.
Gary grew up on an Ashtabula County farm during the World War II years and his family did not have the money to lavish many toys upon their children. It wasn't until he was an adult doing dairy farming with his parents that Gary became a collector.
"We had these companies that we shipped milk through, and some of these dairies put out a (commemorative) truck at Christmas," he says.
Gary, who still does some farming with his son, took an interest in collecting the milk trucks. A call from his mother expanded his collecting horizons.
"I had (collected) a lot of toys, but I never got serious about it until my mother called me one day and said she was cleaning out the attic and (came across) something I didn't know I had," Gary says. "It must have been that I didn't like it because it looked like it had never been played with."
That toy - a mechanical Ferris wheel - is displayed in the museum and it still works, as do most of the mechanical toys in his collection. For Gary, part of the fascination of collecting is restoring and repairing the toys.
He also enjoys the challenge of hunting down missing parts and toys from incomplete sets. A car carrier that came with two Cadillac cars and one Studebaker pickup took him 10 years to track down the three cars, cab and carrier.
"It gives me something to look for when I go to the flea markets," he says. "Things like that show up in the darnest places."
His oldest toy is a tool chest that sold for $1 and included all the tools - screwdrivers, hammer, saw and more. All are functional but downsized versions of the real thing. Gary says he's had to search out the individual tools to assemble the collection as it would have been sold in 1899.
With his collection covering everything from miniature cars to pedal vehicles, from bulldozers to dolls, most visitors have no problem finding something of interest.
"Most of the comments I get (from visitors) is about the different categories of toys I have," he says.
Gary also buys and sells toys, and by doing so has been able to support his hobby.
"This venture does support itself," he says. "I never took any money from the farm business to purchase toys."
Walls of toys greet visitors to Gary Tabor's museum in Williamsfield Township.
While he does not charge an admission to visit the museum, Gary does accept donations, which go toward the collection. His museum does not have a name, although magazine stories done about it have pinned the monikers "Tabor's Toy Tractor Treasures" and "Tabor's Toy Truck Trove" on the place.
With his 80th birthday on the horizon, Gary can't help but wonder at times what will become of his collection when he can longer care for it. "I don't know," Gary says flatly when asked of the collection's fate. For now, however, it is serving many purposes in his life. His wife died two years ago, and Gary has found diversion and comfort in his toys. He's also been encouraged by the visitors who come to look and, at times, entrust their own childhood toys to the collection. Once a toy joins the collection, Gary has a very hard time parting with it.
"I'm married to every piece in here," he says.
As if managing this collection were not enough work for Gary, he also has become involved with the "Engineering Tragedy" production about The Ashtabula Disaster. Gary is building models for the video and has a long list of props that he is tracking down for Len Brown, owner of Beacon Productions and producer of the proposed film.
"He's just a swell friend," Gary says. View a video of Gary's amazing collection.