Scale Model Farm

Cousins craft a realistic scale model farm

"Pop the top" of the tobacco barn, and tiny bundles of tobacco can be seen drying on the rafters. The farmstead features realistic touches, like a basketball goal on the side of the barn.

"Pop the top" of the tobacco barn, and tiny bundles of tobacco can be seen drying on the rafters. The farmstead features realistic touches, like a basketball goal on the side of the barn.

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For the past nine years, Wes McClain and his cousin, Clint Rogers, Taylorsville, Ky., have spent many hours working on their farm. Every year they put up a new building, each built by hand. One year it was a tobacco barn; another year, a milking parlor. It's a big job, but small scale: The entire farm fits on a piece of plywood 8 feet by 20 feet. 

The farm has been exhibited at the Spencer County High School Future Farmers of America Toy Show in Taylorsville each year for the past eight years. It features a tobacco barn, dairy barn, milking parlor, silo, calf barn, corncrib, pig pen, tool shed and repair shop, waterfall and pond (including live goldfish). The display is a fall scene, showing the corn harvest underway, and wood being cut for winter. It captures a realism sometimes missing from scale models.

"We try to add buildings that are not ordinarily at a toy show, but are seen on an actual farm every day," says Clint, 22. "There aren't any 1/16" farm sets, so we have to make our own from scratch."

All the buildings are exact replicas of ones on the farm where Clint grew up.

"Every bit of it is homemade," says Wes. "Construction of the tobacco barn, for example, started with posts for the sides, driveway, top plates and rafters, all of which were ripped by table saw from 1" stock. After the framework was nailed and glued in place, the boxing was cut from 1/8" plywood and 1" strips and glued, leaving a crack between each board to allow for ventilation, just as in a real barn. The roof is constructed to mimic a '5-V' galvanized metal roof, which can be partially removed to expose details, as with other structures in the display."

Even a stripping room is included, complete with a woodburning stove that sends real smoke through the stovepipe.

Plastic pipe wrapped in wire makes the farm's silo. Clear Christmas tree lights shine in the dairy barn and the tobacco barn's stripping room. Light shines out through spaces between the boards.

"This gives a very realistic effect," Wes says.

Each building takes a lot of planning. Everything is drawn on scale paper before construction starts. To build the barns, for instance, Clint measured the barns on his parents' farm, then scaled them down.

"We look at how the beams and braces are run," Wes says. "Then we take a real tractor and pull it next to the building to see the sizes together. After some sketches, we take a 1/16" toy tractor like the real one and put it next to the building we're constructing, which helps us scale it down right."

Transporting the farm to the show has become quite an operation.

"Last year, I rented a cattle trailer to transport it in one trip," Wes says. Previously, the farm was taken to the show in several pick-up truck loads. Once the pieces arrive at the show site, set-up can take six hours.

Because of the farm's enormous size, the cousins never know exactly how it will look until they start setting it up at the show.

"Others who build 1/64" have put theirs together at home," Wes says, "but ours is too big, so we can't."

The farm's layout reflects practical, real-life concerns.

"If I were going to work this farm, how would I want it set up?" Wes says he asked himself. Except for the milking parlor, which is recessed, all the buildings are moveable. With the addition of new structures each year, the display is always different.

"We have featured, in detail, many activities of farm life, both work and play, which allow the old to reminisce and the young to learn," Wes says.

Their efforts have been rewarded with honors at the show each year. Last year, Wes won Best 1/16" Display, Most True-to-Life Award, Viewers Choice Award, and Best Farmscape. In 1997, the cousins won the John A. Shouse Memorial Award for Best Overall Display, Viewers Choice Award, and Best Scratch Display.

Clint, who graduated from Spencer County High School in 1996, says he has pretty much retired from working on the miniature farm because of the demands of working full-time at his parents' farm. He still helps Wes set it up at the show, but Wes – a Spencer County senior considering a career as an architectural model designer – now does most of the planning and construction. FC 

For more information: The Spencer County High School FFA Farm Toy Show, held each December, has grown to be Kentucky's largest annual farm toy show. Exhibitors are expected to attend from 14 states. 

Diana West is a freelance writer based in Joplin, Mo.