RANTOUL — Though neither Larry nor Shirley Wiley had a pedal tractor growing up, as adults they own scores of them.
The Union City, Ind., couple brought 250 of the pedal tractors to last week’s Half Century of Progress farm show at the Rantoul National Aviation Center.
Though the sign on one of the trailers holding the mini-tractors says “Shirley’s toys,” it is actually more of Larry Wiley’s hobby.
The sign came as a surprise.
“I didn’t know (he had done it) until one day I went out to the shop and there was a sign saying ‘Shirley’s toys’. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” she said with a laugh on the second day of the show on Thursday.
Up until this year, Shirley had driven a trailer with the tractors in parades, similar events and some shows closer to home.
Otherwise, “I go with him to the shows,” she said.
They travel all over with the pedal tractors. The day before coming to Half Century, they were at the Tri-State Engine Show in Portland, Ind., and planned to stay the full four days at the Rantoul event.
The tractors are owned by the Wileys and Mark Willis, who lives just across the river in Union City, Ohio. It was sort of a marriage between red and green.
“I’ve always been a John Deere collector. He was an International collector. Friends always told me about him. I never knew him until I called him one day, and we talked 45 minutes. We’ve become good friends,” Larry Wiley said.
Willis does most of the restoration work on the tractors, and all are kept in barns that the Wileys own.
No two of the pedal tractors are alike.
On the farm, the Wileys owned a set of 30 series two-cylinder John Deere tractors — from the 330 to the 830.
“After we farmed 20 years or so with these tractors I decided I wanted the whole set (as pedal tractors),” Larry Wiley said. “After I got them painted I wanted the 130 pedal tractor. It was also a two-cylinder.”
The hobby, which has been ongoing for about 30 years, took off from there.
These days, Larry Wiley runs a well-drilling operation and is helped by a grandson and a stepson.
“We probably drill 300-350 water wells a year,” he said, “and put in 400-500 water systems.”
During their grandson’s senior year in high school, he decided he wanted to ride a pedal tractor to high school for the FFA tractor day. So a 12-inch riser was attached to the seat to give him more leg room, and he pedaled two blocks to the school.
The Wileys have nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Each one has been given a pedal tractor on their second birthday.
Larry Wiley has gone all over to get his hands on pedal tractors — as far west as Lincoln, Neb., as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida. He has bought many of them in auctions, while some have been given to him. Some have never been ridden.
The most-expensive one he’s bought? He didn’t say the amount, but said it was in five figures. Some are new.
“My wife was giving me a hard time, ‘Why don’t you buy some of the older ones?’” Wiley said. “A sale came up 5 miles from home. One morning I said, ‘This is your chance to put your money where your mouth’s at.’ She said, ‘How’s that?’ I said, ‘There’s an original (John Deere) A selling today.’ I told her what I’d give for it. She gave me the checkbook. I paid $1,000 more than I said I would. Supper was on the table when I got home, so I guess her money was where her mouth’s at.”
Larry Wiley said he plans to continue with the hobby for a while.
“There’s a new trailer in the barn waiting to have 30-some tractor put on it,” he said.