The Great Depression, severe drought, and the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s made life in rural plains areas extremely hard. Many farmers lost their land, others lost their crops, and those lucky enough to have a harvest received little for their efforts because crop prices were unusually low. Families that struggled to pay bills and purchase necessities had little or no money for gifts. Yet, they found ways to celebrate and to give.
In the mid-1930s, Pete Claus Einspahr, Jr., his wife Lillian, and their three sons lived on a farm west of Flagler, Colorado. With Christmas coming and money in short supply, Pete decided to make something for his boys--a toy tractor and threshing machine. Pete constructed the toys, which he modeled on an early Rumley pull tractor and threshing machine used by his father on the family farm in Nebraska, from found parts and ordinary tools used on the Einspahr farm. For example, the large wheels on the tractor were discarded timing gears used in some gasoline engines in the early twentieth century.
Not only did the toys resemble farm equipment, they also operated as such. By moving the handle on the tractor, the boys could "start" the engine, which in turn moved the belts and pulleys, distributing energy to the various working parts. This energy enabled the Einspahr boys to hitch the thresher to the tractor and drive the toys to the desired location. The toys' design also allowed the boys to turn the tractor around to face the threshing machine and attach a belt that would deliver power from the tractor to the belts and pulleys on the threshing machine. In their workings, the toys replicated harvesting activities on the farm.
Pete Claus Einspahr, Jr. was the fourteenth of nineteen children and was born in Nebraska in 1895. In 1925, he married Lillian Irene Lange in Flagler. In 1926, their first son, Glenn, was born, followed by Bruce in 1927 and Bill in 1929. The Einspahr family owned and operated a farm west of Flagler until 1944 when Pete took a job in Denver as a leather worker until his retirement. Pete died in 1981 at the age of eighty-six.
Einspahr's sons generously donated the toy tractor and threshing machine to History Colorado. They were added to the collection in 2004.
Alisa Zahller, Curator of Art & Design, Senior Curator of Objects
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Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203