Siouxland Stories: Yankton man spends 40 years rebuilding toy tractors and more

Siouxland Stories

YANKTON, S.D. (KCAU) — Thanks to the work of one Siouxland man, many toys meant for scrap are getting new life.

“This room here was in Yankton and it’s what I created out of it. The problem is it ain’t big enough,” said Francis Laffey.

Meet 82-year-old Francis Laffey.

“I’m in here all the time. I kind of study it,” Laffey says.

By it, Francis means the hundreds, if not thousands of miniatures that line the walls of an oversized farm building.

“I just got done fixin’ this one up. Put the wheels and stuff on it. And this one here I changed the tractor. It’s just stuff I find,” added Laffey.

And therein lies what makes this collection so unique. For more than 40 years, Francis hadn’t as much been a collector as he has been a creator.

“There’s something about getting it cleaned up and rebuilt and you did it. I buy a new one and set them on the shelf and they’re no fun. Ya know? I want something that’s beat all to heck. So that’s what I do.,” said Francis.

Taking what others call old and making them new again.

“I like to do that and do different things. Create something out of nothing. Like there is one right there.” said Francis. “I take them all apart and take two or three and make one,” he said.

“Here I made two trucks and changed them out and they got International Scouts and pickups,” he says.

By his own admission, Francis’s fascination with toys came late in life. Growing up near Stickney, South Dakota, he said his parents didn’t have a lot of money.

“We played with a crowbar handle that was out plow and we found a toy tractor in the dump one time and that was our tractor. I grew up on a farm so I can relate to it. You have to relate to it or it ain’t no fun.” Francis says.

Since then, Francis, who never had kids of his own, says he’s been a self-made man. First rebuilding lawnmowers and later teaching himself how to weld.

“I’ve been a mechanic most of my life and I can relate to fixing stuff. I was a boat mechanic for 20 some years and a car mechanic,” he said.

His time spent now, working on much smaller vehicles.

“I’m out around 10 in the morning after coffee and out here till three or four every day,” Francis says.

It’s not exactly a man cave, but it’s his. Now even his wife really knows how much stuff Francis has amassed.

 “She don’t have a clue. The only thing she likes to do is go to the shows and collect the money,” he says.

“This is the shop. This is where I’m in all winter where I fix things and tear things apart and start all over again,” Francis says. “You got to have a good imagination.”

As time and space run short for Francis, one has to wonder what this collection of remade keepsakes might be worth.

 “Somebody asked me the other day. I said how can I tell? Every day the market goes up and down. There’s no value until the day you try and sell it,” Francis says.

But until that day, Francis says he plans to keep looking for space on the shelf.

“As long as I can keep moving. Ya know? It’s not hard work, and it’s still fun,” Francis said.

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