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Toy collector ‘senses’ treasures

Avid toy collectors want details: the vibrant colours, the authentic patina, the actual size, and the price tag — all considerations they obsess about. Don Skretting can do none of these, yet he collects anyway. He is blind.

At the Lethbridge Antique & Toy Show, Jan. 18, the 69-year old retired farmer held onto his walking cane, now horizontal, as his nephew, Brett Clifton, led him through the crowds and described the wares on each table. He came up beside me.

“You must be Mark,” he said.

I almost fell over.

I had heard of Don from a huge John Deere collectibles auction sale he had held two years earlier at his farm near Enchant, Alta. He sold old tractors, old toy tractors, anything that was John Deere and old — even John Deere snowmobiles. He promoted the sale all across southern Alberta, and he gathered in $750,000.

When I got to Lethbridge, I phoned him and told him of the toy show, not knowing if he’d respond. However, there he was beside me.

“How did you know it was me?” I asked him.

“Your voice,” Don responded. “I recognized it from far away.”

So among the din of the toy show crowd — sellers dickering, buyers chiselling — he singled out my voice.

I had brought a folk-art toy tractor made by a friend and I wanted an opinion. I hadn’t figured though that I was asking a blind man for an assessment. Yikes.

But Don had been through this trial many times, I am sure. He asked that I put the toy in his hands. He asked that I put his index finger on the steering wheel for a reference. His fingers slowly worked their way over the whole toy. Then he asked about the colour, the history and the price. His fingers had given him many details: the luncheon meat can opener key as a crank, old rusty ends of soup cans as wheels, different sized nails for the foot pedals, and a bent beer bottle lid for the radiator cap.

Don’s remaining senses compensated for his failed eyesight. He has been totally blind for 10 years, suffering from the degenerative disease Retinitis pigmatosa. He didn’t want any pity, nor did he apologize for his extra questions. He had chosen to carry on with his hobby in spite of the affliction life had given him.

Nick Boots, who travelled to the show from Calgary, bought a globe that featured three-dimensional relief features.

“You can feel the Rocky Mountains,” he mused during his all-day treasure hunting.

Art Reed, an elderly long-time “Massey Memories” exhibitor, had a “display only” model farm scene.

Skretting walked away from the show happily carrying a 2003 Stephen Harper autographed lawn sign.

“This might be worth more someday,” he said.

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