- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

MILTONVALE, Kan. (AP) - George Larson looks through a waist-high pile of tricycles, bicycles and other pedal toys in the barn on his farm west of Miltonvale. Through the years, Larson has purchased dozens of junked-up pedal toys and restored them for the enjoyment of area children.

This day, he is looking for a Radio Flyer-type wagon that he painted yellow a few years ago and detailed with fine red lines. Written on its side is “Caterpillar D-1,” the name of a brand of large bulldozer, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported ( https://bit.ly/1tq3lDX ).

Larson, 76, played with the wagon - when it was still its original red - as a child on his parents’ farm one mile south of his property. Even at a young age, he said he liked to “gather up junk and things people threw away” and try to fix them up.

At age 14 or 15, Larson started farming on his own, renting land from his father. He and his wife, Lois, later on acquired more land, where they grew soybeans and wheat, raised some cattle and reared three children.

Larson and his wife also liked going to flea markets and garage sales. At some point, he started buying red wagons.

When he got them home, he said he would spend hours repairing, sand-blasting and painting them. He named the wagons “John Deere,” ”Farmall” and “Caterpillar” and painted them to match the colors of the implement brands.

He also painted the names of his grandchildren and local children on restored wagons and gave them away as gifts. The demand for his wagons grew so much that he began buying new wagons for the children.

“I gave away about 100,” he said. “I tried to get one to every family with little kids.”

About 15 years ago, Larson began taking the wagons to small-town festivals, where he would link the wagons together like a train and pull them down the street behind a Cushman truck.

Then a few years ago, when he was in a tractor supply store, he saw several pedal tractors for sale. He came home with 10. Before long, he was gathering other pedal toys - scooters, bicycles, tricycles.

“I got a lot of the toys from a Wichita flea market they would have in the (Kansas) Coliseum,” he said.

The problem was many of the toys were missing tires or had tires that couldn’t be repaired. So, Larson drove to a tire recycling business in Concordia and purchased 5,000 tires.

“I had 16 pallets on my truck. I bought them for 50 cents apiece,” he said, adding he later sold some of the excess tires for $1 each at a flea market. “I still have quite a few.”

Before long, Larson was loading about 20 fixed-up pedal toys in the back of this truck and taking them to area small-town festivals. He would unload them onto to the ground, and children would flock around to see and ride them free of charge.

“I’m surprised no one else has picked this up and done the same thing,” he said.

Larson, who retired from farming about three years and is having some health issues, said he is starting to sell his toys and will end his appearances at festivals this year.

He has donated a handmade surrey - with fringe on top, of course - to the Cloud County Historical Museum in Concordia and sold two trailer loads of restored toys at an Optimist Club consignment auction that raised funds for children’s programs.

But Larson has no plans of just sitting at home after he closes down his toy hobby. He’ll be back on the road with a new venture.

“I want to start going to car shows,” he said. “I have a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. It’s a two-door hardtop.”

___

Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com


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