Farm Collector

It’s a Small, Small World

Unique scale-model display showcases traditional equipment still in use by the Amish.

Traditional farming practices of the Amish come to life – on a small scale – in displays assembled by Ervin Yoder. The Dundee, Ohio, man has put together displays of scale-model farm equipment mirroring the full-size equipment used by Amish farmers. Showcasing his models, his displays demonstrate how the equipment operates. For realism, small motors operate some pieces of machinery.

Many who view the displays consider Amish farm practices to be labor-intensive. “As Amish kids growing up on the farm, we never thought about the work,” Ervin says. “We just did what my folks asked of us. There were days when the work was hard, but I enjoyed working with the equipment. With those fond memories, I started collecting scale models and assembling them in display form.”

Creating a miniature threshing bee

During his career as a carpenter, Ervin (and his family) moved around for various jobs. That provided the opportunity to find antiques and hand tools that he once used. He began buying memorable items to start a collection. “I enjoyed the old equipment used on the farm,” he says. “With a family to support, collecting was limited. When our four children married and moved out, I started collecting more aggressively.”
Ervin’s displays focus on horse-drawn implements. He also collects pieces utilized for threshing grain: draft horses, threshing machines and steam engines. Early wire-tie balers with gas-powered engines were used in some operations. Hand tools – forks, rakes and shovels – are also included. Figurines wearing traditional Amish attire complete the displays.

One display depicts a threshing bee. Among the Plain community, neighboring farmers joined together to help with harvest. The threshing crew moved from farm to farm until every member’s grain was harvested. Threshing bees remain a common practice in Amish communities today.
The host family for the day’s threshing typically prepared a meal for the entire crew. Family members from the other farms often assisted. They would help serve the threshing crew and clean up after the meal. With a hearty appetite, the threshing crew would break for a noon meal. This created a cherished relief from the strenuous work.

Ervin’s threshing displays have a unique creative flair. “People who viewed my display were curious about a threshing bee,” he explains. “They asked how it functioned. I started adding small battery-powered motors to operate the equipment. For example, the motor in the scale-model steam engine, with a belt connected to the threshing machine, creates a realistic operation. It’s become difficult to locate these kinds of scale-model equipment. The craftsmen who built them are not around anymore.”

Displays bring the past to life

Ervin has many displays illustrating Amish farm practices. One shows a horse-drawn scale-model McCormick-Deering cultivator. “I liked operating the cultivator during my school years,” Ervin says. “I was allowed to skip school to help Dad in the field. You had to stay alert and straddle the rows. Sometimes I would fight sleep, but a brief stop to stretch usually solved that problem.”

Another display shows a John Deere hit-and-miss engine powering an ice cream freezer. The unit resembles a White Mountain freezer. It is belt-driven by a battery-powered motor. No word, however, on whether it actually produces ice cream.

Ervin acquired an operational scratch-built threshing rig from a friend. This highly detailed threshing display is one of his favorites. It consists of a Frick threshing machine representative of those built in the 1840s. A Frick steam engine, belted to the thresher, recalls an engine first manufactured in the 1850s. The steam engine has a battery-powered sewing machine motor. The display’s water wagon, pulled by Belgian draft horses, is also a Frick product. Twine-tied grain sheaths are transported in a Lancaster wagon. The grain is bagged from a chute off the thresher and the separated straw is baled with a stationary baler. This fascinating display is a real crowd pleaser.

Another unusual display showcases a scratch-built, single-row corn picker and steel-wheel wagon. The operator of the corn picker drives a five-horse hitch and the wagon operator drives a team. Husked corn is elevated from the corn picker to the wagon, just as it would be in the field.

Collection reflects diverse interests

A tidy shop is home to Ervin’s extensive collection. Shelves located high on walls are lined with scale models. Additional items are stored on the second floor. The building also serves as a meeting place for Amish worship services.

The collection is undeniably diverse. “My collection is centered on equipment used by Amish farmers,” he explains. “But there is more. While my experience with farm tractors is limited, I like 1/8-scale tractors. I also enjoy collecting local signs, thermometers, ice picks, lanterns and advertisements.” He estimates his collection at well over 600 pieces.

Ervin has exhibited his displays at several shows, including the Laurel High School FFA Farm Toy Show in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Horse Progress Days in Mt. Hope, Ohio, where horse-drawn equipment is featured.

Memories of childhood on the farm

Ervin was born and raised on a small Amish farm near Mount Eaton, Ohio. As was the case for many Amish families, livestock and garden produce provided self-sufficiency. The family’s small dairy herd, milked by hand, met their home needs. Surplus milk was shipped in cans to a local dairy plant. They also raised chickens and pigs; their crops provided feed for the livestock.

As children, their toys consisted of tractors and trucks. Despite extensive use by his eight brothers and two sisters, the toys endured. Because they were well cared for, the toys remain in their original condition in Ervin’s collection.

Ervin learned early to drive horses. “We drove our standardbred horse and buggy 3 miles to school,” he recalls. “I was about 8 years old for the first drive. It was fun driving old Joe and the buggy with my brothers. At about same time, I drove a team of draft horses for field work. It was a little scary at first, but I soon got comfortable. It was a special feeling having that kind of responsibility. I always looked forward to the new and different jobs as I grew up on the farm.”

After eight years of schooling, Ervin’s first full-time job was on a carpenter crew. “Even though I was employed away from home, I still helped on the farm,” he says. When he turned 18, he found employment with Mast-Lepley Storage Structures. In 2000, Yoder formed his own home improvement business specializing in commercial and residential remodeling and trim work.

The Amish still rely on draft horses and mules for farming. Steam engines provided early stationary power for the threshing machine or the blower to fill the silo. “Eventually we switched from steam power to gas-powered tractors,” Ervin recalls. “I remember an early gas-powered McCormick-Deering Model 1020 tractor on steel wheels with spade lugs. The next tractor at home was a John Deere Model R. I loved the John Deere with its ‘putt putt’ sound and power. Tractors were not used in the field unless something got stuck. Today, I use a Ford Model 2810 to keep our property tidy and for general purpose.”

Keeping pace with the times

Amish farming has evolved with added mechanical equipment, but it’s still horse-drawn. “It’s quite common to see horses hitched to a forecart with engines,” Ervin notes. “These power units provide PTO and hydraulic capability for modern field equipment.”

His collection has kept pace with the times. “With those advancements,” he says, “my collection is now focused on that kind of equipment.” He’s also placed his displays in enclosed cases, providing protection while keeping them clean and dust-free.

Ervin has realized personal fulfillment through his hobby. “I like going to shows that relate to what I collect,” he says. “It’s challenging to find that next special item. Through the hunt, I’m able to meet like-minded collectors.” And when he exhibits his displays, he enjoys seeing people’s reactions. FC

For more information: Ervin Yoder (evenings only), (330) 464-8396.

Freelance writer Fred Hendricks of Mansfield, Ohio, covers a vast array of subjects relating to agriculture. Email Fred at

  • Published on Oct 14, 2021
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