January 18, 2021 at 9:27 p.m.
Now, the duo is imagining their next entry, a more detailed one to closely reflect the place they spend most of their days – the Ricklefs family dairy farm near Monticello.
Ricklefs, a 14-year-old freshman, and McElmeel, a 13-year-old seventh grader, began going to the National Farm Toy Show in nearby Dyersville when they were young. By the time Ricklefs was 10, the cousins were ready to enter the competition’s youth category, which allows any creation at 1/64 scale.
Ricklefs’ parents, Dustin and Lindsey, are partners with his grandparents, Darwin and Judy Ricklefs, milking 130 cows and raising youngstock.
McElmeel’s mother, Jessica, is a sibling to Dustin and occasionally helps on the farm. She and husband, Scot, live in town but allow McElmeel to spend much of his spare time on the farm. McElmeel helps with chores and milking, and pursues the toy hobby the two boys have adopted.
The boys’ winning National Farm Toy Show 2020 entry was a diorama of a cattle feeding operation built on a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood. It represented 500 acres of crops, 150 fat cattle and a 40-head cow-calf herd complete with facilities and equipment. The boys also took home top honors in 2019.
The 2020 display’s detail went all the way down to chains on the gates, electrical wires running from buildings and manure in the spreader. It showed chopping and bagging in progress, and trash burning behind the farmhouse. And it had many pieces of farm equipment created or purchased by the two boys.
“We wanted an eastern Iowa theme,” said Ricklefs of their choice of a beef and crop farm.
To create the display, they needed to have a comprehensive understanding of how a farm and farm equipment works, and be able explain it to judges and toy show visitors.
“They ask you how you built it and why, and what is cool about it,” said McElmeel, who admits to being good at designing parts of the display.
He also paints many of the pieces.
The display’s plywood, plaster and plastic foam base has been cleared to make way for a new creation: a dairy farm which they hope to complete for the 2022 competition.
“We’ll use kind of the same scene,” Ricklefs said. “But there will be more detail – like a double-7 parlor and a manure pit.”
McElmeel said the display will feature more landscape.
“It will have more bells and whistles,” he said.
They even plan to poke tiny corn stalks into the base to create a field.
That is why they plan to sit out the 2021 competition – to have enough time to create the new display.
They are starting early this year, after having waited to see what Christmas presents arrived to support their hobby. The tools and shop supplies they received will help them create a tree line and add detail to the inside of the model machine shed.
“We tend to do a little something (on our display and its pieces) every day,” Ricklefs said.
The future 1/64-scale dairy farm will also use what the two boys have learned from their work on the farm. It will build on what they already know from collecting and creating the toy machinery.
“We go to dealers to learn more,” Ricklefs said. “Like Helle Farm Equipment (in Dyersville). We tend to be there getting parts a lot.”
The boys have purchased many of the pieces of farm equipment online and customized them to fit their model. Ricklefs also has a 3D printer which allows him to create pieces like the grain drill, grain cart and chopper used in their 2020 display.
In fact, Ricklefs has made money selling pieces he has made. Other farm toy enthusiasts are often looking for something special.
That is a good thing, because the hobby can get expensive. It also uses up a lot of space in the Ricklefs’ farmhouse.
“It takes over the whole basement,” Lindsey said. “They have so many works in progress that it’s hard getting the area picked up.”
But she also said it is a good hobby.
“It uses their creativity,” she said.
The cousins have created 4-H fair entries from their materials, but they said they are less worried about taking their display to the toy show because of damage or theft of their pieces.
“People at a toy show know what goes into it,” Ricklefs said. “They won’t touch it.”
During the three-day show, they enjoy seeing other entries.
“I’ve seen an implement dealership, a meat locker and a propane plant,” Ricklefs said.
McElmeel said he enjoys attending the show.
“I really like going to the shows to talk to other kids and adults,” he said. “I like seeing everybody’s ideas.”