Starting from Scratch


| November 2001



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The late Lyle Dingman and his wife, Joyce, with an arrangement of some of his scratch-built toys

As anyone who knows the difference between their mother's pie and store-bought can tell you, some things are just better when made from scratch. That seems to be the feeling of a growing group of farm toy aficionados who make their own model farm toys from scratch. Their motto seems to be: If you cannot find it, build it.

Farm toys are scratch-built (almost every part made from raw materials, as opposed to 'customizing,' or altering factory-built toys) for a number of reasons: to add more detail; to make a toy not made by factories; to make toys exactly like the real machines of years ago; to use one's creativity; for a profit; or just for the plain fun of it.

Farm toys are scratch-built in every possible size, from 1/64 scale of the real machine, to 1/3 as large, and all scales in between. Most, however, follow the standard size of farm toys: 1/16 scale. Farm toys of every type are scratch-built: tractors, combines, plows, cultivators, balers, steam engines, threshers.

Al and Kathy Van Kley of Ankeny, Iowa, have scratch-built, among other toys, a 1/64-scale rear-mount cultivator, unavailable through traditional manufacturers. A1 figures they made and sold thousands of them, working mostly on weekends with family and neighbor kids.

Scratch-built farm toys are often so well made that people think they are manufactured by one of the large companies.

Gary Van Hove of Pipestone, Minn., says people say, 'You built this?' and can't figure out how he did it. 'They can't believe someone can take a piece of brass and make a toy out of it. There are a lot of questions: 'How do you do this, and how do you put this together?'' He has scratch-built more than 70 different toys, including 1/16-scale scraper blades for tractors (one of the more popular items), plows and farm animals.